15 February, 2017On 14 February, an international solidarity action with workers of the Rustavi Azot chemical plant, and the Trade Union of Metallurgy, Mining and Chemical Industry Workers of Georgia (TUMMCIWG), took place in Rustavi, Georgia.
The rally was held under the banner of IndustriALL Global Union to protest the dismissal of 350 workers from the plant. Representatives of affiliates from Armenia, Belarus and Kyrgyzstan participated, and TUMMCIWG received letters of support from trade unions in Moldova, Russia and Ukraine.
Gocha Aleksandriya, deputy chairman of the Georgian Trade Union Confederation, told participants about steps made by unions to resolve the conflict. He said that the government had ignored the company's violation of the law, and that the owner, Efrem Urumashvili, was lobbying in the corridors of power.
Tamaz Dolaberidze, chairman of TUMMCIWG, read letters of solidarity from IndustriALL affiliates and reported on the results of a media investigation on violations of sales procedures at Rustavi Azot.
Vadim Borisov, regional secretary of IndustriALL, stated that Georgia had recently signed an association agreement with the European Union. He said:
“This socially irresponsible behaviour by the employer is completely unacceptable because it undermines the basic values of the European social charter and violates ILO conventions 87 and 98.”
Gennady Fedynich, chairman of Belarusian Radio and Electronic Industry Workers' Union, warned of the danger of short-term employment contracts:
“This system is widespread in Belarus, and is in fact 21st century slavery, because workers depend entirely on the whims of employers.”
Eduard Pahlevanyan, chairman of Branch Union of Trade Union Organizations of Miners, Metallurgists & Jewellers of the Republic of Armenia, and Taalajbek Kudusov, member of the Presidium of Mining and Metallurgy Trade Union of Kyrgyzstan, also expressed support for the workers’ demands.
Tamaz Dolaberidze attempted to enter the company premises, but he was denied access.
As a result of trade union action, the employer cancelled the scheduled dismissal of another 350 employees. Benefits for the 350 employees already fired were increased from three to four months. However, the union's main demands were ignored:
- To extend the previously signed collective agreement;
- To cancel one-year contracts that replaced previous permanent contracts;
- To sign new contracts in the presence of a union representative.
The owner stated through the Ministry of Labour that there would be no other positive steps.
The company appears to be hiding from the union. Union representatives are unable to find a legal address to send official letters. The administration does not accept letters at the director’s office, stating that a company is not registered here.
The union will probably only be able to formally interact with the employer in court. The authorities, who act as mediators, seem to unofficially support the employer.
The owner claims that mass lay-offs are due to the high price of natural gas that has made production unprofitable. Instead of negotiating with government about possible tax incentives for saving jobs, the authorities and the owner resolved the situation in the most convenient way, firing workers and shifting the burden onto them and their families.
Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL assistant general secretary, stated:
“We understand the economic difficulties of the employer, but it is unacceptable that he abandons social dialogue with the union which aims at joint problem solving. Our affiliate in Georgia will struggle to lead the resolution of the conflict in a civilized fashion, and IndustriALL will support it.”