A sanitation worker for the Tbilisi municipality, who was fired over organising an 'illegal strike', was allegedly blackmailed with intimate photos after the strike ended.
Irakli Baghdavadze, a sanitary worker formerly working for Tbilservice Group, a sanitation company owned by the Tbilisi municipality, has allegedly been targeted with blackmail.
He has been on hunger strike since 23 August to protest his firing, which took place earlier that same day.
Eliso Kiladze, editor-in-chief of Georgian news outlet Kronika +, said on 25 August that an anonymous account uploaded ‘private images’ of Baghdavadze to Facebook earlier that day.
Irakli Baghdavadze was among the leaders of a three-day sanitation strike that briefly paralysed waste collection in the Georgian capital. The workers, who held their strike between 6 August and 9 August demanded the repair of malfunctioning trucks and waste bins, fully paid holidays, health insurance, new uniforms, and a wage increase.
The strike ended with Tbilservice Group agreeing to negotiate a new contract with the workers.
After the strike, Irakli Baghdavadze continued to protest against his employer and the municipality, publicly criticising them in the media. He was fired on 23 August. The same day, the Tbilisi Mayor’s Office announced that a new deal between Tbilservice Group and the workers was announced.
The deal, signed with the Trade Union of Service Sector, Local, and Communal Services Workers, entailed a 20% rise in salaries, a guaranteed annual bonus equivalent to a month’s salary, and health insurance for Tbilservice Group sanitation workers.
Tbilservice Group said they were letting Baghdavadze go over organising an 'illegal strike' and also for ‘threatening’ his coworkers, referring to alleged arguments between Baghdavadze and his co-workers during and after the strike.
On 25 August, Eliso Kiladze also claimed that the same anonymous account that contacted her on Facebook told her that there was also video footage on YouTube allegedly showing Baghdavadze engaging in a ‘non-traditional relationship’ while in prison.
Kiladze, a frequent government critic, said she immediately reported the messages she had received to the Interior Ministry and that the authorities had launched an investigation.
The blackmail of government critics with illegally obtained sex tapes, most commonly targeting women or those allegedly having same-sex contact, has a sordid history in Georgia.
On 24 August, Baghdavadze denied there could be any footage of him to leak and that he ‘was not afraid of anything’.
Baghdavadze had previously accused the Director of Tbilservice Romeo Mikautadze of attempting to bribe him in order to buy his silence. He also said that the waste management services of the Tbilisi municipality are corrupt. One of the shady deals, according to him, included the Anouki company run by Anuki Areshidze, spouse of Mayor Kakha Kaladze, being contracted to manufacture uniforms for Tbilisi sanitary workers.
Anouki has denied the allegations.
Day without a dustman
On 6 August, Tbilisi immediately felt the effect of waste management employees’ strike after waste bins overflowed by nightfall. That first day, Tbilisi Vice-Mayor Irakli Khmaladze condemned the strike as ‘illegal’.
Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze responded to the crisis by mobilising other city employees to work instead of sanitation workers, on 7 August — joining the strikebreakers for a Facebook live in which he, dressed in a sanitation worker’s reflective jacket, helped dispose of garbage.
According to labour watchdog group Georgia Fair Labor Platform, labour inspection authorities had identified 14 labour violations by Tbilisi City Hall-owned Tbilservice in October 2020.
The violations included the absence of an occupational safety specialist, employees having no health insurance or proper protective equipment, and inadequate sanitary and hygiene standards.
After Irakli Baghdavadze was fired on 23 August, the Tbilisi Mayor’s office simultaneously announced that a new agreement was signed between Tbilservice and the Trade Union of Service Sector, Local, and Communal Services Workers which represents the striking workers.