Workers protesting against their illegal dismissals at the fertilizer plant Rustavi Azot in Georgia suffered broken ribs and other injuries after they were violently removed from the company building by police.
The protest on 2 February, by the Trade Union of Metallurgy, Mining and Chemical Industry Workers of Georgia (TUMMCIWG), an affiliate of IndustriALL Global Union, took place outside the management’s office, in support of 350 workers who have been fired illegally. In solidarity with workers’ demands for reinstatement, leaders of almost all branch trade unions, members of other unions, students and NGOs joined the protest action.
Frustrated at having no reaction from Rustavi Azot to their protests at the unfair dismissals for almost a week, workers decided to enter the management office to get clarifications from the director about the solution to the conflict. Guards used force and tried to prevent protestors from entering the building. Soon after that a big number of police surrounded the building and violence broke out. Eyewitnesses say the police beat participants disregarding their age or gender.
Some protesters got their ribs broken, and other face and body injuries. The police also beat up journalists who were reporting live from the protest. This is despite the fact that workers and their supporters had started to leave the building.
Later on the same day, a four-hour meeting took place initiated by the Ministry of Labour, with participation of the representatives of dismissed workers, including Irakli Petriashvili, president of Georgian trade union confederation. Commenting on the results of the meeting, Petriashvili said that management refused to fulfil workers’ demands and therefore protests would continue.
In January 2017, new management at the Georgian chemical plant, which is the largest fertilizer producer in the Caucasus, began a process of mass dismissals.
On 30 January, production at the plant stopped due to the high price of natural gas.. According to information provided by the TUMMCIWG, the dismissals were carried out in violation of the law. According to the trade union the number laid-off could be twice as big if the protests had not taken place. Following the demonstrations, the company stopped further dismissals and announced severance pay of three monthly payments of 500GEL (US$185) to all the dismissed. The offer only came after TUMMCIWG’s meeting with the representatives of municipal authorities, Ministry of Labour and chairman of the parliamentary Committee on human rights.
In parallel with the dismissals, Rustavi Azot is breaking the law by forcing remaining workers to sign new contracts seriously undermining their working conditions. Management is threatening to make workers redundant if they do not sign the contract.
TUMMCIWG’s chairman, Tamaz Dolaberidze, states:
“The management summons the workers and insists they immediately sign a new labour contract, which is a document of five pages in small print. Even its plain reading would take several hours. Proper understanding and consultation with lawyers would probably take a few days. The company doesn’t provide workers with this opportunity.”
According to Dolaberidze, the new labour contract radically deteriorates the employment status of workers compared to the previous one. For instance, the new contract is valid for only one year, while earlier contracts were open-ended. Workers are also being imposed to carry out new duties not related to their work, and could be fined if they fail to fulfil these new duties.
IndustriALL General Secretary Valter Sanches deplored the violence towards workers, in a letter sent to president of Georgia before the protest on 2 February he stated:
“It is imperative that the government of Georgia intervene immediately to guarantee the immediate reinstatement of the 350 workers, who were unlawfully dismissed; demand the cancellation of all the contracts that were signed under duress, and ensure that the new contracts be signed in the presence of a union representative; demand that Rustavi Azot abide by the earlier concluded collective agreement; as well as guarantee the effectiveness and fairness of the mediation process, under the auspices of the Ministry of Labour, which has unfortunately stalled.”
Amateur video of violence against protesters.