Around 80 labourers working on upgrading Georgia’s main east-west motorway have been on strike since last Sunday, demanding improvements to their working conditions. Workers on the Upper Osiauri–Chumaleti section of the road, near Khashuri, are awaiting a response to their demands from construction company SinoHydro.
According to a statement on Monday from rights group the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC), ‘most of the workers do not have a copy of their own contract’, are deprived of paid overtime or sick leave, and work 70–77 hours a week.
The Georgian Trade Union Confederation (GTUC) are representing local workers in negotiations with the company. According to GTUC Deputy Head Lavrenti Alania (who also chairs the Georgian Transport and Roads Workers Union), labourers have no contracts and no days-offs.
One worker in Khashuri, Gocha Korkotadze, told OC Media that he is among 80 Georgian employees on strike, and around 60–70 of them are currently waiting outside the ongoing negotiations for the results. Korkotadze said the company will not be able to resume work on the road without them, and hence expects SinoHydro to eventually cave in to their demands. As well as the unions, he said the Georgian Young Lawyers Association, a Tbilisi-based rights group, also ‘helped a lot, explaining the basics of the labour rights to the company, which did not seem to understand any of them’.
Among their grievances, workers mentioned cases of violence. While Korkotadze was not present during the incident, he said that at one point members of the company's management attacked one worker. He said that the initial reaction of SinoHydro after workers communicated their concerns was problematic, as they only suggested reporting it to the police. As GTUC representative Ilia Lezhava told OC Media, they received assurances from the company today that the company will investigate this. SinoHydro also promised to designate a special employee on worksites to promptly address any such cases in future.
Lina Ghvinianidze from EMC told OC Media that during disputes, translators are provided, but usually, there is still a language barrier in communication between local workers and the usually Chinese-speaking middle and top management. A number of workers confirmed the problem to OC Media.
Lezhava said that wages remain the hardest part of the negotiations, including workers’ demands for overtime payments, one day off per week, and a right to collective bargaining.
Chinese construction engineering company SinoHydro started working on the road last December after Prime Minister Kvirikashvili announced the launch of the project in September. The company’s contract with the Roads Department envisions a motorway that will bypass Khashuri, Surami, and Chumaleti leading to the Rikoti pass tunnel, and is worth more than ₾130 million, according to Reginfo.
SinoHydro has been constructing motorways throughout Georgia for more than 8 years. There were similar strikes by road workers employed by the company with demands for better wages and working conditions in 2014 and 2015 in east-Georgia.