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Three people have been injured working on the construction of Georgia’s controversial Panorama Tbilisi project. Video footage from immediately after the accident showed that safety rules were not being followed on the site.
Construction at the site, near Tbilisi’s central Freedom Square, was temporarily halted on Tuesday after the three workers fell from a 10-metre height.
The Panorama Tbilisi real estate project is backed by Georgia’s former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, chair of the ruling Georgian Dream Party.
On 16 April, three men aged between 19 and 21 were working on the facade of a Panorama Tbilisi building when they fell into a gap between two buildings, an area so narrow that emergency services struggled to reach them.
A video published shortly after the accident showed that none of the workers were wearing safety helmets or any other safety equipment.
All three were hospitalised with multiple injuries, including head trauma, broken ribs, and contusions. None are in critical condition.
‘Due to certain blemishes identified during our [preliminary] research, we decided to halt the construction process until they are fully resolved’, Beka Peradze, the head of the Labour Safety Inspection Department, told journalists.
Peradze told local media that the Labour Safety Inspection Department had not visited this particular construction site because the country’s new labour safety law was only recently enacted.
Gocha Gobadze, a worker employed at the site, told Georgian news site Liberali that there were ‘no safety measures at this construction site, we are slaves’ he said.
He said that despite the conditions, he had no other option but to work there in order to support his ill mother.
‘I don’t have a choice, I have to work. My mother has [a brain] injury. I don’t have a job and I came from Adjara. I’m working here to buy medicine for her with the little money I earn. She’s been ill for 15 years. I’m a slave’, Gobadze said.
Labour safety in Georgia
Workplace safety has gained increased public attention in Georgia in recent years, with dozens of rallies held by workers, activists, and unions following workplace accidents.
Two weeks ago, two construction workers were found dead at a construction site on Tbilisi’s Chavchavadze Avenue.
Following the news, hundreds of people took to the streets of Tbilisi on 1 April demanding officials take responsibility for the workers’ deaths.
[Read more about the accident and the rally for safe labour regulations: Hundreds protest in Tbilisi after 2 workers die on construction site]
After pressure from activists, in February, Georgia adopted a new law on occupational safety granting inspectors new powers to inspect all workplaces in the country without a court order or prior warning. However, the law will not come into force until 1 September.
The previous law, adopted in March 2018, covered only 11 hazardous sectors. Under the new law, all sectors, both public and private, will be subject to safety inspections.
The law also broadened the mandate for the Labor Conditions Inspection Department, a supervisory agency established in 2015 that is currently under the labour and social affairs ministry. The department is also responsible for combating human trafficking and labour exploitation.
On 17 April, labour rights group the Solidarity Network issued a statement stressing that proper labour safety could not be achieved without also monitoring if labour rights were respected.
‘Had the labour inspection mandate monitored the rights of employees, the employers would have had no other choice but to regulate the length of working hours and set resting hours during and in between shifts. As a result, the workers would seldom be exhausted and that would reduce the risks significantly’, the statement said.
The death toll
According to statistics provided by the Interior Ministry to the Public Defender’s office, 59 people died and 199 were injured in 2018 due to work-related accidents, ‘which greatly exceeds the numbers from the previous year’.
Data obtained by OC Media from the Ministry of Internal Affairs showed that in 2010–2017, 359 people were killed and 984 injured in workplace accidents.
The Public Defender’s 2018 parliamentary report said that ‘this means, enforcement of Labour Safety Law has not improved the concerning safety situation at workplaces, which was caused by its fundamental flaws’.
‘While it’s true that the law introduced an important obligation, the execution of these regulations was not guaranteed by an efficient inspection system as supervisory bodies were not allowed at workplaces unconditionally’, the report said.
The data requested by the Public Defender from the Labour Inspection Department showed that from January 2018 to 15 February 2019, some 213 enterprises were inspected as a part of the governmental programme.
As a result, dozens of challenges were identified, including the absence of risk assessments, of individual and collective protection tools, malfunctioning machines, and the absence of emergency action plans, among others.
Panorama Tbilisi is a massive real estate project being implemented by the private $6 billion Co-investment Fund, which was presented in 2013 by then–Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili. Ivanishvili pledged an additional $1 billion of his own money to the project.
The project consists of several constructions across Tbilisi, including a hotel on Freedom Square, Hotel Sololaki Hill, and golf courts, among others.
The project has met multiple protests from local residents and activists, who were worried about its environmental impact, the potential termination of Tbilisi’s application for UNESCO world heritage status, and the implications on their daily lives.
[Read more about Panorama Tbilisi on OC Media: Investigation | Who are Panorama Tbilisi’s mystery backers?]