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Coal Miners in Tkibuli Strike over Wages, Working Conditions
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 24 Feb.'16 / 23:51

Miners in the town of Tkibuli are on strike for a tenth day on February 24 demanding pay rise and improved working conditions in two coal mines operated by mining company Saknakhshiri, which says that salary increase is “unrealistic” at this stage amid falling demand on and price of coal.

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

Tkibuli coal miners, who are on strike since February 15, demand 40% wage rise; they complain over “unbearable” working conditions and poor safety in mines, where reportedly 15 miners died in separate incidents in 2009-2014; miners also demand their old workwear and equipment to be replaced.

On February 23 miners held a protest rally outside local municipality building in Tkibuli criticizing central government of neglecting their concerns; some striking miners broke into the yard of the mining company’s headquarters. Protesters have also called on the relevant ministries, as well as parliamentary committees to engage in mediating between workers and the mining company.

The Ministry of Labor, Health and Social Affairs said on February 24 that its officials met striking miners, who have asked for a meeting with the company executives, but the latter ones have requested for additional time before holding such a meeting.
 
A senior executive of Saknakhshiri said it is not currently possible to meet miners’ demand for 40% pay raise because of company’s falling revenues attributed to dropping coal prices.

“In recent years [company’s] revenues have fallen by GEL 10 million… Against the background of falling coal prices, it is very difficult to give promise of 40% pay raise. It might be possible to discuss gradual [salary raise] and it has been offered to them, but they have strongly rejected it,” Bezhan Balavadze, deputy CEO of Saknakhshiri, said on February 23.

The company reported coal output of 350,000 tons and gross revenue of GEL 34.3 million in 2014 (about USD 19.6 million at the time); no data for 2015 were available from the company, which said that it pays about GEL 12 million annually in taxes.

In a written statement on February 24, Saknakhshiri’s parent company, GIG, said it’s ready for an agreement with strikers on “some issues”, but taking into view low demand on coal and its falling prices “the company cannot give unrealistic promise… to increase wages at this stage.”

“Each day of continued strike makes our positions even more distant from each other,” GIG’s chief financial officer, Zurab Gelenidze, said on February 24.

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.

Five years ago, 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.

In a separate development, workers at glass manufacturing factory in Ksani, Mina, owned by Turkey’s glass maker Şişecam, are on strike since February 5, demanding 30% pay rise.

In other recent developments in Georgia’s industrial sector, earlier this month Rustavi Steel, which owns metallurgical plant in Rustavi, “temporarily”, till March 10, laid off at least 150 workers, citing slump in global steel demand. It triggered protest of plant workers as they feared that the company was applying the same scheme used in respect of several hundred of other workers, who were laid off “temporarily” in 2015 and never reinstated since then.

In January Georgian Manganese, a manganese ore mining company, which also owns ferroalloys plant in Zestaponi, suspended till May 20, 2016 its manganese ore mining in Chiatura, citing weakened market demand. Like coal mining in Tkibuli, manganese ore mining is the major earner for many locals in Chiatura. The company said workers would be receiving 60% of their salary during the four-month long mining halt. Export of ferroalloys declined by almost 32% to USD 194.5 million in 2015, accounting for 8.8% of Georgia’s total exports last year.

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