Instead of making efforts to mediate between the parties of the conflict, the state authorities violently intervened, flouting basic fundamental human rights. Dozens of workers were detained by the police on Friday 15 September. They were later released. However, on 18 September three union leaders, Irakli Iobidze, Malkhaz Gogiava and Emilo Gumberidze, were arrested by the security police under the authority of the Interior Ministry. On 19 September, they were sentenced to 10 days imprisonment by the provincial court of Kutaisi for disobedience of the police. Furthermore, management called and visited workers demanding that they return to work under thrrat of arrest. The police also forced workers to sign statements promising not to protest and to return to work immediately.
The situation at Hercules Steel represents an egregious violation of trade union rights both by management and the government. The dismissal of trade union officers and founding members is a clear and serious violation their rights and of Georgia’s international treaty obligations. Similarly, the refusal to bargain with a legally constituted trade union is a violation of the right to organise and bargain collectively. The local government not only condoned this illegal activity but also furthered its objectives through the use of overwhelming police power. In addition to ending a legal strike by jailing numerous strikers, the police required workers to work for a private company against their will and under the threat of arrest; a form of forced labour.
No one in the government has denounced these clearly illegal acts. Indeed, the Vice-Mayor of Kutaisi blamed the workers and stated that any investor would receive the full support of government. It is unacceptable that the government trade off the rights of its citizens for business investment.
We urge the Georgian government to bring an end to those violations and to:
• Unconditionally and immediately release the three detained activists and withdraw all the charges against them and other strikers;
• Urgently facilitate mediation to resolve the conflict in a civilized manner through negotiations with the participation of all involved parties;
• Launch an investigation of police interference as well as the violations of human and trade union rights at the Hercules plant - including the right to organise, to bargain collectively as well as forced labour and human trafficking;
• Stop all attacks on the Georgian trade union movement and respect the rights enshrined in the ILO conventions ratified by Georgia;
We will continue to follow developments in this case and engage in solidarity actions in the region and beyond.
Sofia, 22 September
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