The Pipeline Union deputy chair has taken a case against BP to the civil court of Georgia.
The civil court of Georgia is for the first time considering a claim of discrimination on the grounds of trade union activity. The case has been brought by the Pipeline Union deputy chair against BP Georgia and its Human Resources Recruitment Agency (HRRA) after mediation by the labour ministry failed.
The Pipeline Union is affiliated to IndustriALL Global Union through the Georgian Gas and Oil Industry Workers Trade Union. The union was formed last year to defend workers’ rights, after the company failed to offer Georgian workers the same terms and conditions as other BP workers in the Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey region.
BP and HRRA top management have resisted unionization, with country head Chris Schlueter sending an email to staff discouraging membership. Managers warned employees not to join the union with e-mails and “friendly talks” which succeeded in making the majority of the members leave the union. Presently only 10 from 30 members are left in the union.
Disciplinary action was attempted against the deputy chair of the Pipeline Union Vakhtang Pirmisashvili over several months, resulting in a so-called “reorganization” and dismissal. The legality of the dismissal is currently under civil court review.
“Pipeline Union members tried to use all legal means to protect their rights, without any success, leading to Pirmisashvili suing BP and HHRA in the civil court for violation of freedom of expression and discrimination in the workplace,”
said Gocha Kvitatiani, chair of Georgia’s Gas and Oil Industry Workers Trade Union.
Georgian labour law mandates collective bargaining if requested by a union, and in autumn 2015 the committee of the Pipeline Union prepared a draft agreement and sent it to their employers for review and approval. BP and HRRA lawyers have dragged out the process, including conditions that made it impossible for union members to arrange meetings. After 11 months the agreement has still not been signed.
The Pipeline Union used its legal right and referred to the labour ministry for mediation. BP refused to participate in the mediation.
During the mediation process HRRA representatives used technical grounds to undermine the process, complaining that the mediator was not registered in the mediators’ roster and was unlawfully appointed by the minister. The mediation process was suspended, and the employer has intensified persecution of the union.
IndustriALL general secretary Valter Sanches has written to the CEO of BP, calling on the company to respect the right to organize. The letter points out that BP is in breach of national and international labour law, violating both the Georgian labour code and ILO Conventions 87 and 98.
Valter Sanches said:
“We call on BP to stop harassing union members, enter into collective bargaining negotiations with the Pipeline Union, and immediately reinstate Vakhtang Pirmisashvili. We also urge BP Georgia to participate in the government-sponsored labour mediation process”.