Hundreds of Georgian Railway workers go on strike

Hundreds of railway workers in Georgia’s four main regions have gone on strike., 27 Nov 2014 - 13:25, Tbilisi,Georgia

"Irresponsible behaviour" of Georgian Railway administration led to three accidents overnight after hundreds of railway workers in Georgia’s four main regions went on strike after negotiations to improve conditions and raise salaries failed. 

About 60-70 percent of the 12,682 Georgian Railway employees are on their second day of action after negotiations between a new professional union of Georgia’s Railway and the Georgian Railway administration failed to reach a tangible result.

Those striking are from Tbilisi, Kakheti, Khashuri in the east and Zestaponi and Samtredia in the west, and they went on strike this week demanding overtime compensation, new salary rules and a so-called 13th salary payment.

The strike began yesterday where Georgian Railway employees held a warning rally in front of the Department of Railways. Negotiations with the company did not lead to any results therefore the strike continued.

The new railway trade union claimed the railway administration acted irresponsibly when it replaced the strikers with unqualified people from within the company, which resulted in multiple accidents overnight. No one was injured in the accidents, the trade union said.

"The train passed a red traffic light and cut the rail arrow at the station Supsa, in western Georgia. At the Lilo station, a train moved away from the track and two carriages fell off. At the ninth kilometer of Igoeti-Japana railway, corroded, broken rails were discovered, which can lead to total disaster,” the trade union said.

The new railway trade union now called on police to protect the rights of strikers who were under pressure.

The new trade union for railway workers has been established and led by Vitaly Giorgadze and deputy Ilia Lezhava, who claimed railway workers worked in difficult conditions and had no canteen, shower or changing room, individual pharmaceutical boxes, or even soap and hot running water.

According to the trade union website, union representatives and employees tried to negotiate with Georgian Railway officials to try to reach agreement on improving conditions and ways to solve existing problems, but no consensus was achieved, especially in regards to salaries, which employees considered to be the most important problem. So they went on strike.

The union said striking railway trade union members had a list of demands. As the railway belonged to the Government, they wanted next year’s budget bill to reflect the proper financing in order to determine new salary rules and a system for bonuses. The striking workers believed it was crucial to discuss this issue now, before the 2015 budget bill passed in Parliament.

The Vice President of the Georgian Railway Workers New Trade Union said the railway was "violating safety protocol by continuing to work”, due to the fact that a large portion of workers had been on strike since 10am yesterday and their work positions were being filled by the management team.

We, the railway workers trade union, will hold the railway administration responsible for any incident that could happen in regards to transportation and cargo trains that are currently active in direct violation of safety protocols. We urge each passenger and each company that transports cargo to avoid using the railway services today, Lejava said.

Meanwhile Georgian Railway contradicted this claim and said the railway was working as normal because only a "small number” of railway workers were on strike.

We want to notify the public and our partners that due to the small number of strikers, Georgian Railway will continue functioning on a regular schedule both in public and cargo transportation sector. No components have been hindered at the railway, Georgian Railway stated.

The trade union claimed 60-70 percent of workers are on strike. Among the strikers are drivers, conductors and technical personnel.

Georgian Railway stated it had 12,682 employees. Of this number, about 4,800 were union members.

According to the statement by Georgian Railway, there were nine points in the list of demands from strikers and they achieved agreement on seven on them, while one of the issues is a subject for the courts. Only on one point, the parties could not agree.

Meanwhile, members of the population and student organisations planned to express solidarity to the strikers today, the trade union said.