Miners Strike Continues in Western Georgia to Remedy Unsafe Conditions

TKIBULI, Georgia – It is twelfth day that workers of the Tkibuli coal mine Imereti region in western Georgia have been continuing strikes demanding pay rises and improving the ‘unbearable’ working conditions in the coal mine operated by mining company Saknakhshiri, parenting by Georgian Industrial Group (GIG) holding.

Besides a healthy safety environment in which to work, Tkibuli miners, who have been on strike since February 14, also are seeking an end to non-regular employment, an overtime pay system, and wage indexation tagged to inflation and holiday pay.

They have been demanding an increase in salary by 40%, on which their employer says that the salary increase is “unrealistic” at this stage amid falling demand and the current price of coal.

The strikers have complained about poor safety in mines, where reportedly 15 miners died in separate incidents between 2009-2014.

Saknakhshiri, which employs about 1,500 workers, mostly local residents of Tkibuli in the Imereti region, is part of the GIG, a holding with operations in energy generation, retail and the wholesale of natural gas and real estate.

Saknakhshiri GIG was founded in April, 2006 by GIG. Their main activity is coal mining and further enrichment. At present, Saknakhshiri is the majority shareholder of coal assets and the only mining company in Georgia.

On Tuesday, more than 1000 miners held a protest rally outside local municipality building in Tkibuli criticizing the central government for neglecting their concerns. Some broke into the grounds of the GIG Group mining company in the city.

On February 15th, GIG Group released a statement and they concerned that due to the miners’ strike the production process of the company had been partially suspended and administration of the company “was not informed about the strike.”

GIG Group announced that there is no objective prerequisite for the protest action.

“The company observes the payment receipt terms, the contractual terms and conditions, the miners are provided with the insurance, and the working conditions of miners are being constantly improved,” the statement read.

The company has also called on the miners to stop using the language of “ultimatums”. Strikers say the company itself speaks with ultimatums by telling them that the company will not engage in talks in the condition of ongoing strike.

The coal miners’ strike was one of the top issues discussed at today’s governmental meeting.

Georgia’s government has decided that tax benefits will be retained for miners who are on their duties until January 1st, 2016. A draft law has already set up and will be soon submitted to the Parliament for discussion, the Government’s press office announced.

Minister of Labor, Healthcare and Social protection Davit Sergeenko emphasized that the events developing in Tkibuli lately is a labor dispute.

"I think that throughout next days, the mediation will result in noticeable progress and all key aspects will be regulated," Sergeenko said.

This is not the Tkibuli miners first protest action demanding better working conditions.

In 2010, when coal miners in Tkibuli went on strike with similar demands, it ended few days later with an agreement between workers and the company management.

Tamar Svanidze

Edited by Chloe Diamond

Photo: imtavroba.ge

25 February 2016 13:35