Solidarity Network is an independent union in Georgia who fights for a democratic workplace, better transportation, neighbourhoods, and healthcare. The worker isn’t only at work. They are everywhere and so are we.
This year, we are proud that our local union in the professional college, Spektri, developed a new program for labour inspection and environmental defence. It’s the only program of its kind in Georgia that is free and open to everyone. We also had free English and German lessons for our members and others beginning of this year. Recently, we launched our new website, please take a look http://solnet.ge/en/.
Please find a short survey of our work this year below.
In December of 2017, we started a campaign around the 87 unjustly laid off nurses and doctors in the Iashvili Children’s hospital (which is owned by the Bank of Georgia). This campaign lasted for a few months and was successful in raising consciousness around the abysmal labour conditions of medical professionals and the negative consequences of having over 90% of healthcare privatized on patient outcomes and labour.
Furthermore, Bank of Georgia has ruthlessly taken over most of healthcare, capturing over a third of the market. Evex, the bank’s healthcare face, milks the budget mostly filled by the overburdened hired workers who pay a flat tax of 20% of their income, and then end up paying again, 18% VAT tax on everything they buy (which such low wages, everything is being spent and not saved). Profit taxes don’t exist if the company “reinvests,” whatever that means in reality. The meagre budget is being funnelled through tortuous schemes to get as much money as possible through the single-payer health insurance (now defined insurance), turned into huge profits where the dividends are distributed to foreign shareholders.
Nurses and doctors make a meagre earning, the quality of healthcare is low due to low pay and long hours. Healthcare remains a challenging field that needs to be contested by the workers.
Support for the Metro Strikers:
Metro conductors who are part of an independent trade union, Ertoba 2013, went on strike this year. The strike was delayed by the courts twice, once in an unprecedented ruling where the court declared that strikers can only strike “during non-working hours.” The conductors went on strike despite the absurd ruling and stopped the metro for the first time in Georgian history. The strike lasted for three days before the mayor caved in and agreed to the terms of the union. Solidarity Network was actively supporting the strikers for months leading up the strike and after. It was a collective effort to fight not only the arrogance of the management but also the aggressive campaign the mayor’s office launched against the metro workers.
One of the store’s employees of this giant supermarket chain decided they had enough of long hours, little pay, illegal deductions from paychecks, and less than a penny more for overtime. This campaign highlighted, once again, the conditions of retail workers in Georgia. They work between 50-80 hours a week, with routine deductions for “missing” products, and overtime is 10 tetri more than regular pay, their pay is between 300-450 lari ($110-166) a month with overtime and without deductions. The company publicly declared that yes, they do make the employees buy expired products. Management sees nothing wrong with their practice and said the market decides the low wages and all the deductions are the faults of the employees. While publicly defending their awful practices, they quietly introduced better working hours with slightly better pay at the store in an attempt to downplay the wins of the campaign. This campaign is ongoing.
Television Public Broadcasting:
The independent Public Broadcasting Union was organizing their union and conducting collective bargaining when the management decided to “reorganize” and introduce a harmful practice of the zero hour contract. Zero hour contract means that workers are officially employed but their pay is dependent on the hours they are needed, which effectively means they can be employed without any hours or pay for months even years. The fact that a public institution is the first to introduce this destructive anti-worker practice into Georgia says a lot about the state of public institutions and the intentions of management. Solidarity Network sees this as an active sabotage by the management of a public good, like television, to pave the way for privatization. We are working with the public broadcasting union to reverse the zero hour contracts and give employees more decision making in their workplace.
Presidential Elections & Labor:
The elections of the new president have ended in a runoff. Solidarity Network demanded that the main candidates offer a position of the poor labour conditions in Georgia. Every candidate refused to answer us after several attempts, except for the libertarian party candidate which unabashedly stated he doesn’t believe there should be any laws protecting workers. Despite the fact that the president is largely symbolic, they still have the responsibility of having a position on the most important issues for Georgians which are poor labour conditions, low pay and unemployment. The candidates have successfully escaped addressing any of the urgent problems instead of focusing on absolutely useless talking points.
40 Hour Work Week & A Living Wage:
The unorganized, large low-pay service sector’s main problems are long hours and very low pay. Though the labour code states that a workweek is 40 hours, there is a specific category of work which expands the hours to 48. This specific categories list contains many businesses including grocery stores. There is wage theft of eight hours minimum, and then most of the time, the employees are working ten to twenty hours more either without compensation or minimal overtime. We held a protest for a 40 hour week maximum and are planning a series of actions to remove the 48-hour specific category as well as force companies to limit overtime and pay for overtime.
At the same time, we are doing research on what the living wage is in Georgia in conjunction with Clean Clothes Campaign. There is no minimum wage currently and methodology offered by some to calculate the minimum wage is inadequate, therefore, we are offering a methodology of calculating a living wage as well as a campaign in the near future.
Solidarity Network is part of the New Politics Platform initiated by the Transnational Institute. The New Politics Platform is an open and participatory framework for collective thinking for activists and scholars from post-socialist countries.. It encourages creative collaboration aimed at the future, in a moment when most of our understanding of ongoing transformations tend to still be lagging behind, informed by concepts and political strategies rooted in social and infrastructural conditions of the past. We hosted the first meeting on October 12th in Tbilisi. http://new-politics.info/
Clean Clothes Campaign
We are also part of Clean Clothes Campaign. Since 1989, CCC has worked to ensure that the fundamental rights of workers are respected. They educate and mobilize consumers, lobby companies and governments, and offer direct solidarity support to workers as they fight for their rights and demand better working conditions. Clean Clothes Campaign brings together trade unions and NGOs covering a broad spectrum of perspectives and interests, such as women’s rights, consumer advocacy and poverty reduction. https://cleanclothes.org/
Transnational Social Strike Platform
In addition, we are part of the Transnational Social Strike Platform. The Transnational Social Strike (TSS) Platform aims at involving different kinds of workers – women and men, those employed in factories, those who experience the normality of precarity, locals and migrants – in a political process against subordination and exploitation. It is open to workers, groups and unions across Europe and beyond that share a common goal.
We are also part of the Clean Clothes Campaign. Since 1989, CCC has worked to ensure that the fundamental rights of workers are respected. They educate and mobilise consumers, lobby companies and governments, and offer direct solidarity support to workers as they fight for their rights and demand better working conditions. Clean Clothes Campaign brings together trade unions and NGOs covering a broad spectrum of perspectives and interests, such as women’s rights, consumer advocacy and poverty reduction. te of subordination to employers and politicians. We are going to the meeting in Stockholm, Sweden in November.