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Bus drivers go on strike in Tbilisi

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Friday, November 9
Yellow bus drivers in Tbilisi went on strike on November 8th. The main demands of the drivers are increased salaries and improved working conditions. They have already drafted a 17 point list of demands they are going to deliver to the leadership of Tbilisi Transport Service. The drivers have appealed to the new government for support.

The drivers claim they have very low salaries- five lari per hour. The drivers have also expressed dissatisfaction towards inappropriate working conditions and poor sanitary conditions at bus stops where they take their rest breaks.

The drivers demand a meeting with the head of the Tbilisi Transport Service Akaki Jokhadze. Striker Alika Iremashvili has threatened to go on hunger strike if the Jokhadze declines to meet with strike leaders.

“The situation is getting worse. We are not demanding an immediate increase in salaries. It will be acceptable for us if salaries are increased gradually and we have better working conditions. We apologize for creating discomfort for Tbilisi residents due to the strike.” one of the drivers said.

According to Chairperson of the Transport Trade Unions Lavrenti Alania nearly 1350 drivers are currently on strike.

General Director of the Tbilisi Transport Company Levan Koplatadze met with the strikers and recommended negotiations between management and the strikers. He stressed that the strike will create an unpleasant situation for Tbilisi residents and that it would be better if the strikers go back to their jobs before negotiating with their employers.

Koplatadze also stated that doubling salaries for drivers is not possible.

“From July 1st [2012] we increased salaries by 16 % for all employees of Tbilisi transport companies. The average monthly salary of drivers is 800 GEL. Salaries are dependent on the number of hours the employee works and the length of their bus routes. Drivers of big buses earn 6.3 lari per hour and drivers of small buses 5.3 lari per hour." Koplatadze stated. He added that he was ready to answer all relevant questions at Tbilisi City Hall and during the meeting with the strikers.

“However, at the moment, gaining additional funds for further salary increases is unimaginable.” Koplatadze added.

Opposition representatives of Tbilisi City Hall claim that the strike was called due to the “Tbilisi Mayor's indifferent attitude towards drivers’ issues."

Christian-Democrats' representative Jaba Samushia, has appealed to the Tbilisi municipal government to cooperate with the strikers to avoid further complications.

“On our side we take responsibility in monitoring the process.” Samushia said before calling on the drivers to stop the strike.

Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development Giorgi Kvirikashvili stated at a recent press conference that the ongoing strikes by municipal service workers and others are putting the stability of the country in peril as well as damaging the economy. Kvirikashvili has appealed to the various strikers to stop their rallies and promised that their problems will be studied and addressed by Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili.

Employees of Georgian electrical company Telasi also went on strike with similar demands as the employees of the Poti port workers and the Chiatura and Tkibuli miners.

An agreement was reached between Telasi management and the strikers. 125 former employees of the company will be restored to their former positions. The miners and port workers' demands have not been met.