Thursday, September 3, was the first time that I attended a manifestation in Tbilisi. Together with some people from the Green Youths, we went to a manifestation in support for workers’ rights, mainly in the service sector where many students and especially women are employed.
As I have understood it, the initiative came from a student network of solidarity, with support for a guy that had been fired as a result of protests against his working condition. This was a trigger for student protests against poor working conditions in the service sector at large. Witnesses says that the situation for workers are unacceptable. It´s usual with 24 hours working day, without sleep or proper brakes. In other cases, the norm is 12 hours of work every day.
Georgian law says that the minimum wage is $5.15, 40 hours are the maximum amount of working hours per week, and that overtime is to be compensated with an extra 50% of the wage per hour. The problems are that there are too many loopholes in the law, and that no inspectors are controlling the companies if they are following the law. Companies can gather all the maximum 40 hours per week into two working days, and skip the overtime pay. This is especially bad for students that take any job they can, get no vacation and have to handle their full time studies at the same time.
As I see it, this is an obvious anarchy in the system, with damaging effects for the whole society. It affects people’s mental and physical health, reduce people’s work ethic and are a humanitarian and economic catastrophe for the whole society. With all due respect for the nice regulations at the paper, but laws that isn’t followed are no real law, especially the regulations about working hours, working standards and health at the working place.
What I´ve looked up, the Georgian government fails to ratify the ILO conventions that they have decided to, and therefore are obliged to follow. They still also fail to reach the standards that are to be reached according to the association agreement between Georgia and the EU. But because it seems to that the EU mostly cares about the free trade parts of the agreement, and the export revenues, there are no real incentives from the international level for the government to care about. This is really an international issue, where free-trade agreements and liberalization of economies has to take working rights into account, as well as environmental standards. This also shows that the struggle from the button-up is such important. I hope this protests will grow and put real pressure on the government to take real actions. So, keep up the fight!