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Proposed changes promising dignified work relations prompts debates

By Levan Abramishvili
Monday, September 23
False and ambiguous information has been circulated on social networks and media about the upcoming legislative changes to the Labor Code of Georgia. The information has instigated misperception in part of the public, making them believe that the initiated package of changes, aimed at creating more just and decent working and social conditions, are against their interests.

The package of legislative amendments to the Labor Code and the new draft law on labor inspection, set to be initiated and adopted during the Autumn session, were prepared by the MP Dimitri Tskitishvili, in cooperation with the International Labor Organization (ILO) and other international organizations.

Particularly, several media platforms have reported that working at two or more jobs would be banned and maternity pay, remunerated by the Government with a single payment of maximum GEL 1000 would now be set at 80% of the salary. Both reports are untrue and misrepresent the content, scope, and purpose of the regulation, says The Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC), a local NGO, which took part in the first reading of the aforementioned legislative changes on September 14-15, also attended by the representatives of employers' unions, Georgian Trade Unions, Public Defender, and NGOs.

The draft law does not explicitly prohibit employees to have labor relations with more than one employer, but it establishes a maximum amount of working time which shall not exceed 48 hours per week including overtime work, in accordance with EU Directive 2003/88/EC.

Current law does not set an upper limit for overtime work. In practice, especially in the service sector, it is often the case that employees work more than 70 hours without infringing the Labor Code.

The proposed law also establishes a maximum total amount of part-time work: it is forbidden to be employed at one or more full-time or part-time job if the total amount of work violates the 48-hour limit.

It should be emphasized that this regulation applies not to all, but to those employed in the high-risk sectors (the draft version of the law also puts the obligation on the Government to identify such sectors).

Under this regulation, the employee will be able to refuse to perform overtime work if the amount exceeds the established standard. The entry into force of this norm depends on the adoption of special minimum wage law.

During maternity leave, the employee will receive at least 80% of their salary every month (the pay period is about 6 months), rather than a one-off basis as reported in the media.

It becomes mandatory for the mother to take at least two weeks of pregnancy and childbirth leave. Paid leave will also be granted to fathers by addition of paternity leave in the amount of 14 days.

“We hope that the discussion of this bill will be an inclusive process involving both social partners and members of the general public. EMC supports the idea of creating material and institutional standards and safeguards in the field of labor that will protect people from exploitation and undignified labor … It is noteworthy that the process of harmonization of national legislation with EU standards also requires making these changes,” writes the EMC.

The initiator of the changes Dimitri Tskitishvili also explained the nature of the draft law via several media outlets and his official Facebook page.

“The bill does not prohibit working at several jobs. The bill prohibits an employer from forcing, threatening with firing, or otherwise obliging an employee to work longer than agreed,” explains the MP.

According to Tskitishvili, specific individuals are trying to discredit a very important reform process from the beginning by artificially inflicting agitation. “The law aims to introduce exceptionally higher standards in labor relations, with particular emphasis on protecting the interests of employees,” says Tskitishvili.

Tskitishvili notes that the need for refinement of the law stems from the particularly devastating situation in this area, as pointed out and criticized by the trade unions, international NGOs, the Ombudsman of Georgia, the US State Department and the EU structures.

The MP explained all the important particularities of the bill and what it implies:

• Prohibition of discrimination;
• A much higher standard of paid maternity leave;
• Introduction of the culture of internship and the protection of interns' rights;
• Regulation of working time and prohibition of ‘slave’ labor;
• More remuneration for overtime work;
• Guaranteed breaks, vacations and holidays;
• Prohibition of unjustified dismissal of persons from work;
• Consultations and information exchange between employees and employers;
• Giving guarantees to the employees in case of mass dismissal;

The MP also notes that for these regulations to be effective, a law has been developed for supervisory body – the Labor Inspection, which provides for enforcement mechanisms, including sanctions;

“The draft laws are based on the relevant EU directives, which we have the obligation to reflect in the legislation under the Association Agreement with the EU. Also, making these changes is a necessary precondition for starting a free trade agreement with the United States,” says Tskitishvili.

Member of the European Georgia opposition party Giga Bokeria has called the initiated changes “Marxist nonsense.”

“Ivanishvili's team continues this arrogant, classical, ultra-socialist 19th-century Marxist attitude that they care about us more than we care about ourselves, at our expense and with our money, everyone's money. In the face of these hardships, instead of hurtful Marxist nonsense, if they want to help our citizens and improve their living conditions, they should lower the taxes,” says Bokeria.

It doesn’t take an economic expert to see that the proposed changes are hardly revolutionary, or ‘Marxist’ as Mr. Bokeria tries to make them seem. Instead, what the initiative brings is the promise of dignified work environment that everyone deserves and has been a part of the European labor relations for decades. Instead of lobbying the interests of the business sector, the self-proclaimed pro-Western parties should be the ones championing the changes, as it gets Georgia one step closer to the living standard it aspires to.