The Situation of Workers and the Trade Union Movement in Georgia

After restoration of the independence the most part of the population of Georgia has lived in the extreme poverty. According to the official statistics for 2017 the share of those below the line of extreme poverty made 21.9% of the total population, and the relative ratio was 22.3%. About 41% of the population (1 542 545) consider themselves as the poor and hope to get the social allowance, which is a miserable in amount – varies between 40 and 60 Georgian lari per month.

Since 1992, as a result of neo-liberal economic policy, the system of state industry and related employment system have been destroyed. According to the official data from Geostat, in 2017 the share of unemployed amounts 14,0%, while a half of employed tries to survive through self-employment. Some of them are taxi drivers, some of them feed the family with agrarian products harvested from 100 square meter plot, while others are street vendors – getting miserable income to feed their children through out-of-door trading.

The part of employed engaged in formal sector, which are considered by state as those engaged in recruitment, suffer from routine exploitation and degrading treatment from the side of socially irresponsible employers.

Against the background of dominated business interests and the weak state, the employed population is under the constant pressure. Therefore, it is extremely important for the employed, especially for the youngsters, to realize the role of the organizing and of trade unions and get involved in the fighting for social justice, since the Youth brings the changes in each and every dimension.

The first inception of trade union movement started in Georgia already in 1896, when the illegal (workers’) strike ‘Till’ was established. The Till provided financial support to the workers who went on strike in different cities and towns of the country. Exactly such support and solidarity to the workers consolidated impetus for trade unions, which represent non-partisan, membership oriented public movement. However, the idea of such organization was considerably distorted during the Soviet ruling – the trade union lost its protective function for the workers and became one of the branches of the Soviet authorities. After the collapse of the Soviet Union such degraded image of the trade union was found useless and, unfortunately, provided rather grave legacy to the new trade union movements.

Today in Georgia there is only one western-style union – Georgian Trade Union Confederation, which unites 21 independent sectoral organizations. Currently the organization goes through the reform with attempt to develop a decent and modern trade union movement in Georgia. Some of the sectoral organizations are very effective in organizing the workers and protecting their rights. However, and regretfully, not each organization from that twenty one is equally successful. Many of sectoral organizations still have incomplete vision on the genuine idea of the modern trade unions. They hardly apply the new methods for fighting and campaigning and prefer to conform to the existing situation and stay passive; it should be mentioned that the lion share from the membership fees are used by primary and sectoral organizations, while the Trade Union Confederation of Georgia, which takes on its shoulders the burden of protection of the workers operates with a minimum funds.

The Trade Union Youth Movement

The Trade Union Youth Movement is a union-based group of volunteers, students and young recruited workers having the aim to encourage organizing and involvement of youngsters in the trade union activities.

According to 2018 data, about 40% of GTUC members are the employed persons under 35. Unfortunately the most of the young members are not engaged in the union activities; moreover, often they have the wrong information on the role of the trade union. Against such background it is clear that the level of awareness among the youth on the role of unions in the public life is rather low, including the students and pupils. The above described situation is a result of the lack of information, as the youth at the educational institutions of Georgia lack with possibility to receive the information on key aspects of labour relations, either on the role of trade union and its engagement. The trade union itself is the only institution trying to make some steps in this direction.

However, some impediments still exist. Among the sectoral unions still there are some individuals who find difficult to change approaches according to the contemporary developments and promote the real democratic reforms, still oriented towards the old Soviet-style unions. Such approaches jeopardize the image of the trade union. The GTUC has healthy ambitionsto provide progressive, durable and open space for each and every group. The Trade Union Youth Movement finds the prospective of development of the workers’ organized power through the union reforms and rejuvenation. Success in this process may not be achieved without active engagement of the youth.

Alongside with improving the internal structural background, the Youth Movement is very active in providing information to the employees and potential workers on their labour rights, also about the importance of organizing and protection of their rights. In addition to the awareness raising the Youth Movement is equally very active in protesting campaigns.

Since 2013, owing to the support of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and other partners, the Trade Union Youth Movement, together with the GTUCprovided the information to thousands of young employees and students on the legal and labour issues and the key aspects of the union-activities. The Youth Movement independently planned and implemented the following campaigns: ‘Make Your Work Safe’; preparation of Chiatura strike ‘Chiatura for Decent Work’; protesting rally in Agara ‘Make Agara Work’; solidarity action‘Solidarity to Railway Workers’; and others.

In order to learn the key principles ofand skills necessary for the trade union activity, the young workers, students, pupils and volunteers take part in trainings and seminars in the country and outside of it. From 2016 to 2018 the project ‘Trade Union School in Georgia’ was in operation, which covered one year regular educational course on the union affairs and other social-economic issues. Within the frame of this School 10 activists from the Youth Movement have been trained and then recruited in a number of trade union organizations.

The Youth Movement identified the following as its major working directions:

  • Encourage the workers’ organizing;
  • Establish and empower the unified working-educational platform for employees, students and volunteer activists;
  • Increase engagement of young members from the sectoral unions into the common union activities;
  • Increase public awareness about the strategy and social-economic policy elaborated by the GTUC;
  • Lobbying the labour-sensitive issues at the different levels;
  • Conduct informational campaigns;
  • Conduct research and analytical activities for visualization of the issues related to the safe labour, workers’ organizing and equal public order;
  • Awareness rising among older generation, young employees and students (public lectures, conferences, public discussions, seminars, trainings and video blogs).

The members of the Trade Union Youth Movement, using every mean at their disposal, are very decisive in fighting against exploitation and economic suppression and strive for establishing the social justice. Their regular activity covers the following topics: implementation of the labour Code; determination of the minimum decent wage; unemployment benefits and pension reform; establishment of labour courts; employment of the youth; introduction of social dialogue at the working places; labour inspection; labour safety; and others.

Giga Bekauri
Member of the PERC YC