TBILISI/JUNE 21 (The Bulletin) — A draft bill set to be debated this week by MPs in Georgia gives the country the chance to set an example on how to improve workers’ rights across the region, activists said.
They said that if Georgia wanted to be taken seriously as an aspirant member of the European Union it had to improve safety and rights for workers.
In a statement, Giorgi Gogia, associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said that a lack of oversight was putting thousands of workers at risk. “Parliament should do the right thing and adopt reforms urgently needed to stop abusive practices and improve workers’ health and safety,” she said.
Over the past few years, a few dozen people working on construction sites in Tbilisi have been killed. Dereguatation and a “profit first” approach to a construction boom triggered by an economic boom and a sharp rise in tourist numbers is putting lives at risk, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in its statement.
Across the Central Asia and South Caucasus region, deaths are reported on construction sites in most major cities. Labour unions are too weak to take on big business which is generally owned by powerful members of the elite who are linked closely with senior politicians.
In Georgia, HRW said that miners were working dangerous shifts lasting 12 hours for 15 days in a row and construction workers were having to cope with little or no safety protections.
“Years of deregulation have left Georgian workers without adequate protections,” HRW said.
Georgia is the most Western-looking of the states in former Soviet Central Asia and the South Caucasus. It sees its future as a member of the EU and of NATO.
Debating potential reform to the labour laws last year, Dmitri Tskhitishvil, chair of the Georgian Parliament’s labour code commission, referenced obligations under a Georgia-EU Association Agreement, signed in 2016.
“Much remains to be done,” he said. “There are still gross violations of workers’ rights and occupational hazards in different industries.”
— This story was first published in issue 451 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin on June 23 2020
— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2020