Workers Win at the Rustavi Azot Plant

Fifty-six workers of the Rustavi Azot chemical plant in Rustavi, Georgia, were reinstated to their jobs and fully compensated for more than one year’s worth of delayed wage pay. The Rustavi City Court made this ruling after 14 months of court proceedings – more than 300 workers suffered mass illegal dismissals and sought justice for their violated rights.

Rustavi Azot, located in the vicinity of Tbilisi, is the sole manufacturer of mineral and nitrogen fertilizers in the South Caucasus. Its output is in high demand abroad: about 85% of the plant production is exported to 20 countries around the world.

In 2017, a change in plant ownership precipitated a large number of dismissals (335 workers fired, out of 2300 employees). Numerous workers’ rallies were held in protest of the decision.

As the management prescribed, 2010 employees were required to sign employment contracts on new terms, and the other workers were offered severance compensation (about 185 USD, to be paid within 3 months).

56 workers contested the decision and applied to the court. Lawyers of the Georgian Trade Union Confederation (GTUC) represented the workers in the case, in solidarity with the workers whose rights were violated.

During the court hearing, the company administration claimed that dismissals were initiated by the previous owner, and therefore denied any responsibility towards the terminated workers.

GTUC lawyers provided proof that the new management had taken over the plant as of 1 January 2017 and, therefore, was accountable for the mass dismissals.

And of 28 March 2018, the court ruled to restore the 56 unlawfully dismissed employees with full compensation payment. The plant administration announced an intention to appeal the court decision.

Corruption in a mining town

Tkibuli is called ‘the town of death’ because of accidents and casualties in the coal mines. From 2007 till 2018 32 people died due to occupational injuries and 11 from them only in 2018. Among 128 accidents, which happened in 2017 at the workplaces, only 11 made their way to the court.

Every year the town becomes more and more empty: in Soviet times 22,000 people lived here, and only 9,770 in 2014. The majority leaves for the better life as except for 2 coal mines there is no work in here. Even women have to work in the mines.

After each accident the society is shocked by the safety norms violations, trade unions and human rights activists require work conditions of miners to be improved. But nothing had changed till 2016, when more than 1,000 miners came out for a strike requiring an increase in wages and work conditions improvement. This strike was successful, the wages grew by 5-7 per cent and the average has become 300 USD, but some categories of workers, especially women, received 150 USD even after the raise. The company has changed the cables, chains and rail tracks in the mines. The president of Georgian metallurgy workers trade union Tamaz Dolaberidze said that the management company did only what was not expensive and what could be shown, but in reality it haven`t improved safety at the workplace. But the miners returned to work.

In April 2018 6 miners died and 3 were injured in the mine in Tkibuli, and in July of the same year 4 more miners died and 6 more were injured. After July accident the mines were closed. Although trade unions have been asking for temporary shut down of the mines for bringing their safety to normal, the workers of Mindeli and Dzidziguri mines protested against the government`s decision and required not to shut them down. From November 2 to 3, 2018, the miners stayed underground in protest, requiring an immediate restart of production process and maximal compliance with safety norms. Trade unions of Georgia and industry union supported the miners and asked the government of Georgia to pay the wages from the budget.

The miners were waiting for the unpaid salaries for more than a year and decided to strike again. On September 24, 2019, 30 miners went underground to the Mindeli and Dzidziguri mines and required to be paid their wages. The workers refused to leave the mines until their requirements would be fulfilled. They were supported by trade union activists, Tkibuli municipal workers and miners` family members.

The new investor ‘Steel International Trade’ company started work in October 2019 and paid all wage arrears to the miners.

Also the company had to change the expired equipment in the Dzidziguri mine by February 26, 2020. According to Dolaberidze, no works on equipment change in the mine have been done.On February 24, 2020, 200 Dzidziguri mine workers announced strike due to investor`s intentions to close down the mine. The miners believe that changing cables and repairing equipment could be done within 5 days and there is no need to close the mine. The miners report that the work conditions haven`t been improved, there are no wage arrears, but the coal production has reduced threefold. The miners are also concerned about the prospective of working in Mindeli mine, where the majority of the accidents of Tkibuli has happened.

Corruption at the 'Rustavi 2' TV channel

Nika Gvaramiya was the CEO of the Georgian TV channel ‘Rustavi 2’ from 2012 till 2019. He was dismissed from his position in July 2019 for corruption, abuse of authority and use of fraudulent documents. The Prosecutor’s office of Georgia started criminal proceedings in August 2019 based on the report of Nino Nizharadze, who is a former owner of 9% of shares of the channel. The whistleblower informed that in 2015 Gvaramiya on behalf of the channel signed an agreement for advertising placement with the ‘Inter Media Plus’ company, owned by his friends, and he didn`t request 6 763510 Lari (approx. 2.3 million USD) from the company, declaring this amount of money as the damage of the company in 2015. The company bought 2 expensive apartments in Tbilisi city center in 2016 and transferred the ownership of these apartments to Gvaramiya in 2017, who sold them and received 602.521 Lari (approx. 190.000 USD).

The Prosecutor`s office investigated another corruption scheme with Porsche Center in 2019. Gvaramiya got the expensive Porsche Macan S car which costs 76.700 Euro from Porsche Center for personal use in exchange for advertising placement on the TV channel.

The former ‘Rustavi 2’ financial director Kakhaber Dameniya and ‘Inter Media Plus’ director Zurab Iashvili were accused of being connected to Gvaramiya`s crimes.

Currently, the investigation and court proceedings continue, while Gvaramiya had to pay 40.000 Lari as the bail and cannot leave the country.