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Kutaisi teachers on strike over delayed aid vouchers

By Ana Datiashvili
Tuesday, February 12
One school’s teachers are on strike in Georgia’s second city of Kutaisi, after saying they’ve waited months for the government utilities vouchers the promised to them during the recent presidential campaign.

“We went on strike only because we couldn’t get these vouchers which we really need,” teacher Tina Kostantinova told the Messenger on February 11. “We’ve been waiting for these vouchers for more than three months.”

Strike organizer Nana Svanadze says her colleagues have been repeatedly promised the vouchers, and are tired of waiting.

“From November, I’ve been asking [the school director] about the vouchers and he always replied that on Friday we would have our vouchers. Well, we’ve been waiting several Fridays and…[now] we’re on strike,” Svanadze said.

School director Malkhaz Bukhaidze told the newspaper he is in Tbilisi waiting to be handed the vouchers; due to technical delays, he doesn’t know when exactly he can deliver them to his striking staff. The strike, he said, caught him by surprise.

“I knew nothing about the strike. I’ve been trying to get them their vouchers as soon as possible. I don’t know whose fault this is, but I can see that the teachers don’t have vouchers,” he said in his defense.

Lado Pataridze, head of the regional resource center tasked with organizing voucher distribution, chalked up the delayed vouchers to unnamed technical problems. There are about 200 teachers across Kutaisi who have not received their vouchers yet, he pointed out, and some of them are waiting patiently rather than going on strike.

“We’ve already solved this problem,” he said, “And I don’t think they have any reason to strike.”

He promised the vouchers would be handed out by the end of the day yesterday.

A return call at the end of the day, however, reached a contrite Pataridze who insisted that a misunderstanding had delayed the vouchers yet again—but that the angry teachers would definitely get their vouchers the next day.

“I’ve talked to teachers and they’ve stopped their strike. So, studies will go normally tomorrow, and at the end of the day they will have their vouchers,” Pataridze pledged.

The utilities vouchers, in total worth GEL 100 toward gas and electricity bills, were part of a presidential aid program launched in mid-October. The country’s roughly 74 000 teachers, minus 200 or so in Kutaisi, were among the program’s beneficiaries.