In Georgia, the Solidarity Center works with trade unions to improve their capacity to engage in social partnership with the government.
||GTUC President Irakli Petriashvili (right), flanked by media, leads a delegation of Georgian trade unionists to a Russian military checkpoint to demand an end to the occupation of Georgia in August 2008.
The Georgian Trade Unions Confederation, with 250,000 members in 27 unions, is the largest grassroots, member-based democratic organization in Georgia. Amid intensified political polarization it has maintained its independence, advocating for peace and dialogue. The GTUC has taken its first steps toward massive internal reform since democratic reformers were elected as leaders in September 2005. Georgian unions are politically involved but neutral toward both the ruling party and the opposition. This position is a break from past Soviet and post-Soviet practice, when unions were an extension of the ruling political party.
Georgia’s 2006 labor code, which replaced the old Soviet model, was in many respects a step backward for workers. It diminished unions’ bargaining rights and introduced a hire and fire policy that enables a worker's dismissal without a valid reason, provided that he or she receives one month’s salary in severance pay. Employment clauses such as this, as well as reductions in employer contributions to social security, earned Georgia recognition as the World Bank’s “top reformer in the Commonwealth of Independent States.” Workers feared losing their jobs if they tried to join a union or presented their demands to an employer. Since July 2006, when the labor code came into force, the GTUC has lost an estimated 20,000 members through dismissal or forced resignation by anti-union employers.
Although the ILO has advised the government to reform the labor code and to begin social dialogue, government policy is functionally unchanged. The August 2008 war increased government hostility toward unions. Despite this challenge, the GTUC remains committed to social dialogue, and its persistence has led to increasingly frequent meetings with the government, a small positive step toward social partnership. In April 2009 the World Bank scrapped its controversial Employing Workers Indicator, citing political stability, social safety nets, and protection of worker rights as important development goals.
The GTUC’s largest affiliate is its teachers’ union, the Educators and Scientists Free Trade Union of Georgia. ESFTUG is also affiliated with Education International, the Global Union Federation that represents nearly 30 million teachers and education workers worldwide. Although ESFTUG has faced increasingly severe attacks from a government-supported "yellow" union, it continues to build its internal capacity and its role in public policy formation.
Today, Georgian unions see their role as developing economic, political, and industrial policies that benefit workers and society to create an economic middle class — historically the guarantor of economic stability, growth, and democracy. The Solidarity Center assists Georgian trade unions in these efforts. Solidarity Center programs in Georgia support legislative action and training in defense of worker and union rights, promote activities designed to increase union integration and coordination, help unions represent their members and reach out to unorganized workers, and educate workers about principles of democratic trade unionism.
Unions Mark No to Violence Against Women Day.
November 26, 2012—At a Turkish-owned textile plant in the Democratic Republic of Georgia a few years ago, female employers were repeatedly forced to remain on the job without pay for hours a day. When they ultimately demanded to be released, the factory manager responded by yelling and throwing a heavy load of unfinished dresses at one woman. The blow knocked her unconscious. The factory manager returned to Turkey to avoid prosecution—but likely would not have faced charges even if he had stayed, says Bob Fielding, Solidarity Center country program in Georgia, who described the incident.
Irakli Petriashvili: Fighting for Union Democracy in Georgia.
April 2, 2012—Irakli Petriashvili has trade unionism in his blood. “It’s like a genetic trait,” said Petriashvili, 42, president of the Georgian Trade Union Confederation (GTUC). “Since I was a child, I have had it in my heart to help those who were victims of oppression and unfair treatment.”
Spotlight Interview with Irakli Petriashvili (GTUC-Georgia).
October 18, 2011—"The labor law only serves the interests of the government and the oligarchs." An ultraliberal labor law coupled with repeated attacks by the authorities has lost Georgia’s biggest union, the Georgian Trade Unions Confederation (GTUC), more than 100,000 members. Its president, Irakli Petriashvili, outlines the discrimination Georgian trade unions have to deal with and the consequences of abolishing the labor inspectorate.
Georgia: Police Force Striking Steelworkers Back to Work.
September 19, 2011—On Friday, September 16, 150 striking workers at the Hercules Steel plant in Kutaisi, Georgia, were forced to end their strike and return to work in a sudden raid by an overwhelming force of police. Fifty police vehicles, led by the local governor, descended on the strikers and detained more than 40 of them for several hours. Managers then went to workers’ homes to threaten them, and police made several more workers sign statements that they would go back to work.
Georgian Unions Beat Back Legal Attack on Worker Rights.
August 3, 2011—In Georgia, President Mikheil Saakashvili’s government has launched an array of anti-union legal maneuvers that are choking off the country’s newly independent trade union organizations. The Solidarity Center spoke with the head of the Georgian Trade Union Confederation’s (GTUC) legal department, Raisa Liparteliani, regarding the fraught worker rights situation in Georgia, where the “Rose Revolution” is seeing a retrenchment in its democratic ideals.
Report from Georgia: Unions under Attack.
March 16, 2011—Alone among former Soviet Union member nations, only Georgia has seen its ex-official union federation democratically reform and emerge as the biggest civil-society voice in the country. However, its efforts to promote worker rights and democracy have apparently rubbed the Georgian government the wrong way. Since 2008, the government has viciously attacked the Georgian Trade Union Confederation and its affiliates.
Letter from Georgian Trade Unions Confederation President Irakli Petriashvili to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in support of Wisconsin public employee union members, March 2, 2011.
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are doing to support their union brothers and sisters in Wisconsin.
Georgian Teachers Union to the Rescue. As the violence continues, Georgians seek refuge at the Tbilisi headquarters of the 125,000-member Educators and Scientists Free Trade Union of Georgia, a longtime ally and partner of the Solidarity Center and the American Federation of Teachers.
Georgian Workers Send Russia a Message: Let Us Go Back to Our Jobs. As Georgian workers struggle in the aftermath of the Russian invasion, Solidarity Center Country Program Director Robert Fielding is on the ground in Georgia and providing dispatches from the field.
Ukraine Labor Confederation Expresses Solidarity with Georgian Workers. In the second issue of its International News Bulletin, the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine expresses solidarity with Georgian workers, saying that it is “deeply concerned about the current situation in Georgia and the impact it is having on innocent civilians.”