Police Break Up Factory Strike
By Salome Modebadze
Monday, September 19The Social-Democrat party has accused the government of neglecting the rights of workers and trade unions. According to information released by the Social-Democrats on Saturday, police units surrounded a group of protesting workers from the Hercules metallurgical plant in Kutaisi. “These detained workers were secretly delivered to various police departments among them the head office of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia (MIA) where they were forced to write explanation letters, take back their demands and return to their jobs,” said the Social-Democrats stressing how the policemen were controlling the entrances of the plant on the second day in order to prevent the rally.
The Hercules plant trades in metals, chemicals, machinery and related goods. The plant employs about 400 people, mostly locals, while up to 150 workers were participating in the strike. According to the MIA, the plant administration called the police, complaining that the strikers were stirring up confrontation with other employees – those who refused to join the strike. The MIA said that police took several strikers to the police station and warned them that although they had the right to continue the strike, they should not interfere in the work of other employees. While Tamaz Dolaberidze President of Trade Union of Metallurgy, Mining and Chemical Industry Workers claimed that the protesting workers weren’t obstructing the work of others.
The workers started the strike on September 13, demanding the creation of “elementary working conditions” from the administration and the re-hiring of several workers fired for their cooperation with trade unions. Addressing the local and international community to consider the “illegal activities” of the government, the Social-Democrats stressed that the government's "political course on European integration has only a declarative character, while real policy leads in the opposite direction.” Talking about democracy, the supremacy of law and human rights protection as the fundamental principles of European society, the Social-Democrats expressed concern that the recent events have violated these principles in Georgia.
“Hercules isn’t the only plant where the rights of the workers have been violated. Lots of companies neglect the Labor Code of Georgia and make people work at places dangerous for their health while the people, suffering from total hunger and unemployment are forced to agree to inhuman labor for GEL 400-800 per month,” the Social-Democrats said in a statement condemning any violence against the workers. Encouraging everyone to express their solidarity towards the “victims of unfairness” the Social-Democrats asked international organizations to release a statement about the conflict and assist in restoring fairness in Georgia through social dialogue. Meanwhile Georgian officials defend the current Labor Code, arguing that the authorities’ focus is on creating “a comfortable” environment for employers and to attract foreign investments.
Accusing the police of violating their obligations, the Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA) offered legal assistance to the plant workers on right the to public protest. “The Georgian Labor Code enabled the workers of the plant to strike and refuse to take up their positions partly or fully,” GYLA explained on Saturday. The organization said that the plant administration had not taken the demands of the workers into consideration and the workers had even held a warning strike before their official decision. GYLA’s local representatives have been observing the developments of the rally from the very beginning which according to them had been completely legal. In a statement released by GYLA on September 17, the organization promised to investigate the “unmotivated” raid and illegal detention of the strikers by police.