Georgia’s new workplace safety and health law is a step forward but does not include sufficient enforcement mechanisms and only covers workers in a few industries, according to the Georgia Trade Union Confederation (GTUC).
“What Georgia’s workers desperately need are laws to force employers to take their safety seriously, and hold them criminally responsible when they do not,” says GTUC Vice President Raisa Liparteliani. For the current labor laws to have any effect, “we first need an inspection department with the clout to back them up,” she says.
Some 455 workers died and 793 were injured on the job between 2007 and 2017, according to the GTUC, using data from the Georgia Ministry of Internal Affairs. Already this year, 12 workers have died. These figures do not include workers who have died or were injured because of occupational illnesses like black lung disease, a common and often fatal workplace hazard for miners, or other on-the-job injuries that manifest after the immediate incident. Also, according to the GTUC, some industrial accidents are not reported in part because employers threaten or blackmail workers into remaining silent.
The law, in effect March 21, covers only workers in high risk, hazardous and dangerous work, and stipulates that workplaces may be inspected only at the invitation of the owner, who must be given at least five days notice.
“The law does not provide regulations that create an efficient, fully fledged labor inspection system in compliance with the International Labor Organization (ILO) convention on labor inspection (Convention 81), in which inspectors have unlimited, free access to all public and private workplaces without the permission of employers or other officials,” according to the GTUC.
Restoring Labor Rights
Under a previous government, Georgia’s labor laws in 2006 were replaced with a labor code focused on the rights of employers. A new government in 2015 created a labor inspection department in line to meet the requirements of an Association Agreement with the European Union. Yet since then, says Liparteliani, the number of people dying and being injured in the workplace has instead increased.
A major shortcoming of the new labor inspection department is that it says “nothing of other areas of labor rights,” she says.
“Labor rights are inseparable from safety issues; a vast majority of workplace accidents occur due to physical fatigue, which is understandable when workers can’t take holidays, can’t take days off when they’re ill, and are forced to work extra hours.”
As it works to establish a labor inspection system in compliance with ILO standards, the GTUC plans to bring the issue to the Tripartite Social Partnership Commission that oversees the European Union-Georgia Association Agreement.