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Two railway workers on hunger strike in Georgia

16 August 2017
Banners in front of Georgian Railway Administration say ‘solidarity to railway workers’ and ‘solidarity to trade unionists’ (Luka Pertaia/OC Media)

Two railway workers from Gurjaani, a town in Georgia’s eastern Kakheti region, launched a hunger strike on 15 August, after being forced to move their jobs.

Four Gurjaani-based employees of the state-owned Georgian Railway company were told on 1 August that they would have to work in another town.

The strikers claim they were not offered reimbursement for travel to the new location or accommodation there. Their salaries, ₾500 ($210) a month, would not be enough to cover an additional ₾25 ($10) a day for transportation, they say.

After refusing the offer, they claim the company’s administration threatened to fire them.

The employees then gave a week for the administration to change their decision, and allow them to stay at their original workplace, or they would go on strike.

After the company refused, two accepted the terms, while two others started a hunger strike on 15 August in front of Georgian Railway’s headquarters in Tbilisi.

Vasil Khorava, the head of infrastructure at Georgian Railway, said if the workers do not return to work, they will be discharged. ‘They should be here today, working’, Khorava added.

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After the workers started the strike, the administration took several journalists to Marneuli and showed them that the workers would be housed in a railway car, and that a bus would transport them.

The company claims that the strikers are lying and that the location shift comes after workers signed a new contract.

The strikers have confirmed to OC Media that they have signed a contract, but claim that they were only aware that the company’s East Georgian Department was expanding to incorporate the South-East Railway Department, and were unaware that their work location might change.

The employees denied to OC Media that they were offered any housing, buses, or reimbursement for accommodation and transportation.

Police response

After the workers went on hunger strike, they set up a tent outside Georgian Railway’s headquarters in Tbilisi, but police soon dismantled it claiming it interrupted movement on the pavement. The workers continued their strike, spending the night on foot.

The tent was planned to be set up in the area between the pavement and the road, so it would not interrupt any traffic (Luka Pertaia/OC Media)

Members of the New Trade Union, an independent trade union established in 2013, supported the strikers and are planning to install a new tent at 20:00 on 16 August, with the consent of the police.

Vitali Giorgadze, the head of New Trade Union asks the police for a permission to set up a tent for strikers (Luka Pertaia/OC Media)

The trade union said that police had no right to disrupt them from setting up the tent, as it did not interrupt movement. They pointed to a ruling in August 2016 by Tbilisi City Court that police had no right to prevent installation of a tent in front of Tbilisi City Hall. Environmental group Guerilla Gardening Tbilisi were protesting the mass felling of trees.

The workers say they are not planning to end their protest until their demands are met. A solidarity rally is planned on 17 August.

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