Seven trade unionist joined a hunger strike on 17 August against the state-owned Georgian Railway company. The company responded by accusing protesters of being ‘politically manipulated’.
Two railway workers from Gurjaani, a town in Georgia’s eastern Kakheti region launched the hunger strike on 15 August, after being told they would have to move their jobs. One of them, Vakhtang Tsiskarishvili, was hospitalized the following day and has abandoned the strike.
Both claim they were not offered reimbursement for travel to the new location or accommodation there, while their salaries would not be enough to cover these additional costs.
[For more details, read OC Media’s report: Two railway workers on hunger strike in Georgia]
According to Ilia Lezhava, the head of the New Trade Union, an independent union established in 2013, the company pressured Tsiskarishvili into complying, and this is why he did not join protests on 17 August.
Nana Klarjeishvili, head of Georgian Railway’s legal department, denied this to Rustavi 2 TV.
The strikers, now 8 people, are demanding the resignation of two Georgian Railway officials, Dachi Tsaguria and Vasil Khorava.
Tsaguria, a spokesperson for Georgian Railway, accused them of being puppets of the former ruling party, claiming that they were being ‘mislead by leaders of the trade union’.
Trade union leaders denied this in their speeches at the solidarity rally on 17 August.
The President’s Parliamentary Secretary Ana Dolidze visited the protesters and offered to step in to mediate the dispute.
Speaking to journalists, Dolidze quoted an excerpt from Georgia’s constitution saying that Georgia is a welfare state on paper, adding that it should also be so in reality.
‘It is very important to protect labour rights and freedom of expression in every state agency, but at the same time, it is equally important that disputes are resolved peacefully’, Dolidze said after meeting with Georgian Railway.
According her, the company is ‘ready for a dialogue with railway employees, the media, and society’.
After trade union leaders addressed the public, approximately 50 supporters gathered in front of Georgian Railway’s headquarters in Tbilisi, with several attempting to set up a tent, but police prevented them from doing so. No one was arrested.
The police previously dismantled a protest tent on 15 August. This was criticised by Georgia’s Public Defender and a rights group the Georgian Young Lawyers Association. The Public Defender called the move an ‘illegal restriction on freedom of assembly’.