Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law generally provides for the right of most workers, including government employees, to form and join independent unions, to legally strike, and to bargain collectively. Employers are not obliged, however, to engage in collective bargaining, even if a trade union or a group of employees wishes to do so. The law permits strikes only in cases of disputes where a collective agreement is already in place. While strikes are not limited in length, the law limits lockouts to 90 days. A court may determine the legality of a strike, and violators of strike rules can face up to two years in prison. Although the law prohibits employers from discriminating against union members or union-organizing activities in general terms, it does not explicitly require reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity.
Certain categories of workers related to “human life and health,” as defined by the government, were not allowed to strike. The International Labor Organization noted the government’s list of such services included some it did not believe constituted essential services directed related to human life and health and cited as examples restrictions on all employees in “cleaning municipal departments; natural gas transportation and distribution facilities; and oil and gas production, preparation, oil refinery and gas processing facilities.” The government provided no compensation mechanisms for this restriction.
The government did not effectively enforce laws that provide for workers’ freedom of association and prohibit antiunion discrimination, and violations of worker rights persisted. There were no effective penalties or remedies for arbitrarily dismissed employees, and legal disputes regarding labor rights were subject to lengthy delays. Without a fully functioning labor inspectorate and mediation services in the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Social Affairs, the government was unable to enforce collective bargaining agreements (as required by law) or provide government oversight of employers’ compliance with labor laws. Employees who believed they were wrongfully terminated must file a complaint in a local court within one month of their termination.
In 2017 the Prime Minister authorized the Minister of Labor, Health, and Social Affairs to chair a new Tripartite Commission that aimed to facilitate social dialogue among representatives of industry and organized labor. At the first Tripartite Commission, focused on Social Partnership, held on February 18, the Minister emphasized the importance of finalizing labor safety issues. Some labor rights organizations, however, noted that the Commission did not take any significant steps during the year except to define the eleven sectors that would constitute “hard, hazardous, and harmful work” under an occupational safety and health (OSH) law that passed in March.
Workers generally exercised their right to strike in accordance with the law but at times faced management retribution. The Georgian Trade Union Confederation (GTUC) reported that the influence of employer-sponsored “yellow” unions in the Georgian Post and Georgian Railways continued and impeded the ability of independent unions to operate. NGOs promoting worker rights did not report government restrictions on their work.
GTUC resumed its engagement in the Tripartite Commission following the Tkibuli mine incidents in the spring during which several miners died in accidents. The GTUC had suspended discussion with the Commission over a 2017 dispute with Georgian Post and Georgian Railways.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government’s enforcement of the laws was not always effective. Forced labor is a criminal offense with penalties for conviction that would be sufficient to deter violations; the low number of investigations into forced or compulsory labor, however, offset the effect of strong penalties and encouraged the use of forced and compulsory labor.
The Ministry of Labor, Health, and Social Affairs reported that it found no cases of forced or compulsory labor although the GTUC claimed this was because there were no improvements in the government’s efforts to improve labor inspection. The law permits the ministry’s inspection department to make unannounced visits to businesses suspected of employing forced labor or human trafficking. The ministry reported that, as of August, it had inspected 154 companies on suspicions of human trafficking and forced labor.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The minimum legal age for employment is generally 16, although in exceptional cases children may work with parental consent at age 14. Children younger than 18 may not engage in unhealthy, underground, or hazardous work; children who are 16 to 18 are also subject to reduced workhours and prohibited from working at night. The law permits employment agreements with persons younger than 14 in sports, the arts, and cultural and advertising activities.
In March, the government adopted a National Human Rights Action Plan that includes a chapter on children’s rights. The Ministry of Labor, Health, and Social Affairs reported that it found no cases of child labor law violations during the year. The lack of a labor inspectorate with the authority to levy fines seriously undermined enforcement efforts, and the low number of investigations into child labor made it unclear how effectively the government enforced the law. Except in cases of suspected human trafficking or forced labor violations, the Department of Labor Inspection was only able to conduct monitoring if enterprises voluntarily invited inspectors and asked them to assess their Occupational Safety and Health situation. Even in such cases, inspectors did not have a mandate to sanction firms for violations of OSH regulations and could only issue recommendations. Depending on the offense, conviction of child labor is punishable by fine, removal of operating permits, community service, probation, or imprisonment.
According to the National Child Labor Study for 2016, the latest year for which data was available, the majority of working children (an estimated 83 percent) were employed in agriculture, mainly helping self-employed family members in a family enterprise or farm. In older age groups, children became increasingly involved in other industries. Many children younger than 16 worked on small, family-owned farms. In most cases, authorities did not consider this work as abusive or categorized as child labor. In some ethnic minority areas, family farm obligations interfered with school attendance, and school participation by ethnic minority children was especially low. Some families in rural Kvemo Kartli (an ethnic Azeri region) and Kakheti (where there was also a significant ethnic Azeri population) worked on distant pastures for six to nine months a year, so their children seldom attended school. Estimates of the number of children affected were not available.
Street begging remained the most visible form of child labor, especially in Tbilisi. In July, UNICEF reported children of street families and unaccompanied children moved following the agricultural and tourist seasons, including to tourist sites along the Black Sea during the summer. Such children were vulnerable to violence and did not have access to either education or medical services beyond emergency care.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination in employment but it does not specifically prohibit discrimination based on HIV or other communicable disease status or social origin. The law further stipulates that discrimination is considered “direct or indirect oppression of a person that aims to or causes the creation of a frightening, hostile, disgraceful, dishonorable, and insulting environment.”
As there was no legal basis for labor inspection or a labor inspectorate with the authority to impose fines, the government did not effectively enforce the law.
Discrimination in the workplace was widespread. GTUC reported cases of discrimination based on age, sexual orientation, and union affiliation. Companies and public workplaces frequently reorganized staff to dismiss employees who had reached the qualifying age to receive a pension. In addition, vacancy announcements often included age requirements as preconditions to apply for a particular position. GTUC reported widespread instances of harassment in both the public and private sectors based on union affiliation, notably in the railway and postal services.
While the law provides for equality in the labor market, NGOs and the Ministry of Labor, Health, and Social Affairs agreed that discrimination against women in the workplace existed and was underreported. Although some observers noted continuing improvement in women’s access to the labor market, women were largely confined to low-paying, low-skilled positions, regardless of their professional and academic qualifications, and salaries for women lagged behind those for men.
There was some evidence of discrimination in employment based on disability. There were also reports of informal discrimination against members of Romani and Azerbaijani Kurdish populations in the labor market.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The minimum wage for state-sector employees was GEL 115 ($43) per month. The official minimum wage in the private sector has not changed since the early 1990s, and it remained GEL 20 ($7.50) per month. Both official monthly minimum wages did not meet the official subsistence income level, which the National Statistics Office lists as GEL 175 ($65) per month. Employers did not apply the official minimum wage in practice, however, as the lowest paid jobs in the private sector typically did not pay less than GEL 200 ($75) per month.
The law provides for a 40-hour workweek and a weekly 24-hour rest period unless otherwise determined by a labor contract. Overtime is defined as work by an adult employee in excess of the regular 40-hour workweek, based on an agreement between the parties. An executive order establishes essential services in which overtime pay may not be approved until employees work more than 48 hours a week. Shifts must be at least 12 hours apart. Employees are entitled to 24 calendar days of paid leave and 15 calendar days of unpaid leave per year. Pregnant women or women who have recently given birth may not be required to work overtime without their consent. Minors who are 16 to 18 may not work in excess of 36 hours per week. Minors who are 14 or 15 may not work in excess of 24 hours per week. Overtime is only required to “be reimbursed at an increased rate of the normal hourly wage…defined by agreement between the parties.” The law does not explicitly prohibit excessive overtime.
In March the government adopted new Occupational Safety and Health legislation for “hard, harmful, and hazardous” industries. The legislation requires businesses in eleven identified sectors to allow unannounced occupational safety, and health inspections; establishes occupational safety and health standards for these industries; and authorizes labor inspectors to issue fines up to 50,000 GEL ($18,800) for lack of compliance. These sectors are transport, light industry, furniture manufacturing, glass production, heavy industry, oil and gas, metallurgy, mining, construction, electricity, and chemical production. Provisions concerning the compulsory insurance of employees by the employer against accidents will come into force on January 1, 2019. GTUC and NGOs criticized the legislation for being limited to occupational, safety, and health, and for limiting the standards to only “hard, harmful, and hazardous” industries.
The government did not effectively enforce minimum wage, hours of work, occupational safety, or health standards in sectors outside of the 11 identified “hard, harmful, and hazardous” industries.” Inspection in these cases remained voluntary, and employers in most cases received five days’ notice before labor inspectors visited worksites. Inspectors did not have the ability to levy fines or other penalties on employers for substandard working conditions, in part because the law does not stipulate acceptable conditions of work. Penalties were inadequate to deter violations. As of August, the Ministry of Labor, Health, and Social Affairs reported it had 25 inspectors and an additional 19 in training. The ministry also reported it inspected 36 companies on labor safety grounds and 118 on forced labor grounds as of August, but none of the allegations was substantiated. NGOs claimed the number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. A law governing entrepreneurial activity also inhibited labor inspectors’ access to enterprises by disallowing unannounced visits by inspectors except in cases of suspected trafficking in persons and occupational, safety, and health issues in the eleven “hard, harmful, and hazardous” industries.
Employer violations of workers’ rights persisted, and it was difficult for workers to remove themselves from hazardous situations without jeopardizing their employment. Workers hired on fixed term contracts frequently feared that calling employers’ attention to situations that endangered health or safety would be cause for employers not to renew their contract.
Conditions for migrant workers were generally unregulated. While the government did not keep specific statistics of migrant laborers in the country, the Public Services Development Agency issued up to 5,000 residence permits to migrant workers. According to the International Organization for Migration, a significant number of migrant workers came to the country to work on foreign-financed projects, where they lived at the worksite. It also reported that other labor migrants found employment in the tourism industry or arrived in the country without previously secured employment, were unable to find concrete employment opportunities, and had insufficient resources to remain in the country or finance their return home.
NGOs reported that a significant number of workers were employed in the informal economy and were often exploited in part because of the frequent lack of employment contracts. Such conditions, they alleged, were common among those working as street vendors or in unregulated bazaars.
According to the Public Defender’s December 8 statement, 35 persons had been killed and 77 injured in workplace and industrial accidents. The mining and construction sectors remained especially dangerous. Of the 33 deaths reported, 12 died in the Tkibuli coal mines during a three-month period. This series of accidents prompted authorities to close the mine and open an investigation of labor safety conditions that resulted in the detention of six company officials running the mine.