State Audit: Tbilisi’s bus drivers ‘illegally overworked, underpaid’

13 February 2020
The Tbilisi Number 2 bus depot. Photo: Shota Kincha/OC Media.

Georgia’s State Audit Office has found that the Tbilisi Transport Company is violating the labour rights of bus drivers in its employ and endangering the safety of passengers. However, some workers are reticent to return to an eight-hour workday. 

The State Audit Office found that the Tbilisi Transport Company (TTC), which operates public buses, metro lines, and cableways in Georgia’s capital, made drivers work longer hours than is legal and failed to pay 99% of them overtime rates for the additional time on the job. 

According to their latest report, both in 2017 and 2018, the TTC made almost all of their bus drivers work overtime. 

‘The Company does not follow the basic requirement of Georgia’s Labour Code, according to which the working hours of an employee should not exceed 48 hours’, the report reads. 

‘Most of the drivers work overtime, which could pose a risk to labour safety’. 

Georgia’s Labour Code puts a 48-hour cap on the number of hours per week enterprises requiring over eight hours of uninterrupted work per shift can request of their workers.

Despite having a 48 working hour limit, overtime hours in some workplaces begin to be calculated after a worker has worked 40 hours per week. 

Despite the higher, 48 working hour limit in some enterprises, overtime hours must still be calculated after a worker has worked 40 hours per week.

‘Overtime is determined by drivers’ schedules: most of them work every other day and work for 17 hours or more’, the report reads.

Speaking to OC Media, Giorgi Sharkov, Director General of Tbilisi Transport Company, challenged the State Audit Service report.

‘Does anyone imagine drivers are not being paid for their overtime work and yet they stay silent like this?’ he asked.  

Eight hours of overwork 

Sharkov told OC Media on 12 February that overtime work had been a long-time problem that they were ‘currently working on’. 

He confirmed that ‘most’ of the bus drivers had to work overtime, ‘usually 15-16 hours every other day’. He added that the TTC planned to move to an 8-hour per day schedule. 

Over a dozen bus drivers that OC Media talked to on three different Tbilisi bus lines said they worked from 12-15 hours every other day, for three or four days a week. 

They overwhelmingly questioned the idea that they were overworked while some also vowed they would ‘immediately quit if 8 hours are reintroduced again’. 

‘I usually have 14 hours. It is a lot, I guess, but the main problem is traffic, it needs to be addressed’, 48-year old Roin near the Didi Digomi bus depot told OC Media. Photo: Shota Kincha/OC Media.

For the bus drivers, ‘8 hours’ was equated to the working arrangement they had in place two years ago when they had to work ‘half-shifts’ daily —  a schedule which they protested. 

‘I used to feel dizzy from exhaustion and I know it caused serious problems, accidents’, Jimsher, a 54-year-old driver of one of the new blue Man busses, told OC Media.

Tbilisi City Hall first introduced the blue busses purchased from the Man Truck and Bus AG Company in late 2016, replacing small, outdated and unpopular yellow ones. 

Stationed near a Tbilisi State University Building, Jimsher said he was taking a 35-minute break. He said he now worked at least 10 days a month, and ‘14 at most’. He said he was paid ‘roughly ₾1,000’ ($350) per month.

‘Imagine you get up at 05:00 in the morning to work, the same every day for five days, then you have [differently scheduled], second shifts the next week. It ruins your health’, 64-year-old Kote, with 38 years of experience as a driver, told OC Media while on a break near Station Square. Photo: Shota Kincha/OC Media.

‘It took a lot of our time to change shifts: cleaning, getting from one place to another, also traffic jams… you had to be out and involved the whole day anyway’, 55-year-old driver Davit, who was also on a break nearby, told OC Media

A group of drivers stationed and changing shifts near the Didi Digomi bus depot in Tbilisi agreed that 8-hour shifts would only be possible if additional personnel were added. Photo: Shota Kincha/OC Media.

Talking to OC Media on Wednesday, Sharkov did not specify what kind of changes in personnel a move to 8-hour shifts could entail, insisting that it was their ‘goal to maintain the current staff’ as well improve transportation infrastructure, including bus depots.

Amending the Labour Code

The Social Programmes Director at the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC), Kote Eristavi, told OC Media that there was no minimum for overtime wages in Georgia, and as a result, overtime wages were frequently only ‘a tiny amount’ above normal wages. In effect, just a formality.  

Eristavi said that the minimum for overtime rates should not be left to an agreement between employees and their employer, as such an agreement was usually a product of coercion, with employees fearing losing their job.  

Georgian Dream MP Dimitri Tskitishvili, the author of a proposed Labour Code reform initiative supported by the International Labour Organisation, the United Nations Development Programme, and the United Nations Population Fund, told OC Media that the upcoming bill would require the government to come up with a list of sectors of the economy with higher risks for workers and possible bystanders. 

He said that the ‘specific list’ of workplaces that had an hourly working safety cap was riddled with loopholes, and was being used to justify a ‘lack of implementation of further labour safety standards’.

According to him, his legal initiative, if supported, would respect the freedom to negotiate hours and compensation for overtime work but would also ensure that no one was risking their health or endangering others while they worked, ‘be it a doctor, a pilot, or a bus driver

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