On 22 April, trade union leaders from Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine held a virtual meeting to discuss their participation in BWI’s workers’ memorial week campaign. They also discussed lockdown measures in their countries, necessary courses of action to take to protect workers’ rights and income, and constraints on and opportunities for trade union actions during and after the pandemic.
“In Georgia, we witness an outstanding shift in how workers are perceived. Workers are on the frontlines of the economy. We are not on a total lockdown, so some of the building materials companies and construction sites continue to work. Constructions workers are building hospitals to help overcome the pandemic crisis. We are not allowed to do safety inspections on the construction sites, but we keep in contact with our members, provide them education and information materials on COVID-19 safety measures, and urge employers to comply with national and international standards” – said Marina Kurtanidze, President of Georgian Building and Forestry Workers Trade Union.
“In Kazakhstan, since 20 April 20, all construction sites are back to work under the condition of strict compliance with COVID-19 measures. This happened on the eve of workers’ memorial week and our trade union produced a campaign video to call on employers to comply with safety measures on construction sites, including physical distance, face masks for every worker, safe transportation and accommodation, sanitizers and handwashing stations, sanitation of work tools and workplaces, and daily health screening for all workers”. – according to Kuseyn Esengazin, president of the Kazakhstan Building and Communal Workers Trade Union.
“In Kyrgyzstan, the lockdown is quite strict, but some construction companies and construction sites continue to work. We work individually with our members to provide them legal support and we have organized a webinar to inform members about safety measures on construction sites and workers’ rights. We take this COVID crisis as an opportunity to revive labour inspection, which was almost destroyed” – said Eldiar Karachalov, vice president of the Kyrgyzstan Building Workers Trade Union.
“In Ukraine, our top priority is to ensure safety of construction workers and secure workers incomes. Unfortunately, during these difficult times, some of the employers don’t pay workers’ wages, explaining that this is due to the COVID-19 crisis. This put our members in extremely vulnerable situations, as they get neither their wages nor unemployment benefits. We are preparing public actions, concerning vulnerability and safety measures, to draw public attention to this unacceptable situation”. – said Vasyl Andreyev, PROFBUD president.
“In Moldova, we are in very difficult situation. The government announced a state of emergency in the country. All decisions are to be made by the State of Emergency Council. Trade unions and employers are not included in this Council, so government makes unilateral decisions which are not in favour of working people. Almost all construction sites are closed with workers sent home without wages. We are using every opportunity to call on the government to consider trade union positions to secure workers income and protect jobs” – said Victor Talmach, SINDICONS president.
“In Russia, wood and forestry sectors continue to operate. Some of the companies in the wood sector had to partially shut down their production due to lack of demand. In this respect, workers income and health and safety measures on the worksites are our key priority. At nearly every workplace, what are called Antivirus committees were organized where trade union representatives are present. We want to ensure that all the decisions related to COVID-19 measures at the work place are made with consideration of the trade union position” – said Denis Zhuravlev, president of the Russian Timber Workers’ Trade Union.
Due to the number of lethal accidents in Georgia in the last year, we are in a crisis, says union confederation GTUC. Workplace trauma caused 30 fatalities and 32 serious injuries. Majority of these accidents are occurring at building sites and factories producing construction supplies. Following these professions is the metallurgical, chemical and quarry; energy production; petroleum and coal production; communications; railway; metro (subway); and other fields of labor. The mines and quarries of Tkibuli and Chiatura are also in a critical condition and prone to numerous risk factors.
These statistics are caused by numerous factors such as: an oversight agency of the government such as the ones in all of the western developed nations does not exist (Georgian government’s National Labor Inspection agency was abolished in 2006); technical oversight agency does not have representatives in the fields that are considered to be difficult, hazardous and dangerous; employer and employees are to settle the issues relating to compensation between themselves in cases of occupational injury; court cases and investigation of occupational injuries takes anywhere from 2 to 4 years; financial and organizational-technical priorities pertaining to lawyers are noticeably in favor of employers; the new law on “controlling technical dangers” does not have perspective in terms of implementation since a powerful system that could enforce health checks prior to and periodically during the employment does not exist, which means that the employee must periodically visit the doctor on his own and usually finds out about an occupational disease he or she incurred after it is too late to treat and the individual is practically handicapped.
The union thinks that a formation of governmental oversight agency (Labor Inspection) is necessary in order to improve the situation faced by the workers. This agency should be organized and modernized. It is necessary to foresee the trade union’s function as a social oversight organization within the law. The fact of the matter is that the critical situation that exists in the labor safety and health does not leave space for ignorance and neutrality.
On the 28th of April, Georgian Trade Unions Confederation will organize a performance-protest in front of the Ministry of Economy. Afterwards, the organization shall hold a mourning service in one of the churches of Tbilisi in order to honor those who suffered a fatal end while performing their occupational duties.
See Anabella Rosemberg’s blog in Equal Times