Georgia’s new labour code marred by “loopholes and gaps”


Georgia – a country which has been condemned by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) as being “one of the worst cases in Europe as far as the rights of workers is concerned” – has finally replaced its controversial labour code.

The new law, signed earlier this month by President Mikheil Saakashvili following months of consultation, provides some protection against anti-union discrimination and increases paid leave for people in hazardous occupations.

It also prohibits dismissal of pregnant women and increases the duration of temporary disability provisions.

However, trade unions have criticised the government for allowing behind-the-scenes lobbying by the American Chamber of Commerce and local employers to weaken the initial draft which had been agreed on by various social partners, including the Georgian Trade Union Confederation (GTUC).

“The latest changes and amendments in the Georgian Labour Code represent an important step forward although they are the minimum of what the Georgian people expected,” head of the GTUC Irakli Petriashvili told Equal Times.

“In the code there are still many loopholes and gaps that allow employers through short-term labour contracts to apply pressure on trade union activists and trade union leaders, meaning that freedom of association and right of collective bargaining will be restricted and facts of exploitation and discrimination of workers will take place again.”

The real challenge now is for Georgia to create the legal basis for effective enforcement of the new labour laws in the form of a labour inspectorate, as Georgia is currently one of the only countries in the world without one.

“Even these minimal improvements will be useless for workers, if the Tripartite Social Partnership Commission does not start working effectively soon,” said Petriashvili.


European standards

Neoliberal economists have praised Georgia for its economic growth but being one of the “easiest places in the world to do business” has had a terrible impact on workers’ rights.

With a 15 per cent unemployment rate among the general population, 30 per cent youth unemployment and an average wage of only 636 Georgian lari (approximately 387 US dollars), labour flexiblisation has failed to create a significant quantity or quality of jobs.

In 2006, Georgia replaced its Soviet-era Labour Code with one designed to bring it into closer compliance with international and European standards.

But this was never achieved: unreasonable restrictions were imposed on the right to strike; working hours, maternity protection and compensation for overtime and night work were insufficiently regulated.

Provisions concerning employment contracts were also heavily biased towards the employer.

The new labour law tackles some of these omissions, prohibiting discrimination in pre-contractual labour relations, for example.

It also defines the essential conditions of a labour contract, provides additional paid leave for people working in hazardous conditions and prohibits the dismissal of pregnant women.



However, there are still a number of areas where the labour code fails to provide adequate regulation.

For example, employers are only obliged to provide a formal, written employment contract after three months of employment. The legislation around the terms of labour contracts is also quite nebulous, especially with regards to short-term contracts and the first four years of a start-up’s existence.

Labour experts have also expressed concern over articles on working hours, employment termination, collective redundancy and the lack of gender-specific legislation.

It is thought that aggressive, pro-business lobbying by the American Chamber of Commerce had some impact on the final labour law.

But this isn’t unique to Georgia.

According to a report published by the progressive American think-tank Campaign For America’s Future, the American Chamber of Commerce has had a dangerously anti-labour impact all over the world.

“The United States Chamber of Commerce has been transformed from a relatively staid pro-business group into a cynical, large-dollar organization that trades the appearance of legitimacy for ready cash,” said Richard Eskow, author of the report The United States Chamber of Commerce: North America’s Dangerous Export.