Coal miners in Tkibuli, who have been on strike for more than two weeks, returned to work on Tuesday after reaching an agreement with a coal mining company on gradual 10% pay rise.
The decision was made possible after a deal achieved late on Monday night after several hours of negotiations between strike committee members and senior executives from the Georgian Industrial Group (GIG), which operates two mines in Tkibuli through its subsidiary Saknakhshiri.
Irakli Petriashvili, head of the Georgian Trade Union Confederation (GTUC) which was not an organizer of the strike, and business ombudsman from PM’s office Giorgi Gakharia were also present at the talks.
Miners started strike in mid-February with the demand to increase wages by 40% and to improve working conditions.
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Earlier on February 29, before the launch of final round of negotiations which led to the agreement, GIG’s senior executives were saying that 5% pay rise was the maximum the company could offer. Before the final round of talks, the company also warned that it was considering closing down some sections of the mine due to safety reasons attributed to protracted halt in operations because of strike.
Initially, when the strike started, GIG was saying that pay rise was impossible because of falling demand on coal and drop in its price.
According to the final deal, those workers employed on underground mining jobs, whose monthly salaries before the agreement varied from GEL 600 to GEL 1,000, will get 7% pay rise starting from March 1 and further 3% increase from April 1. The company will pay miners for half of the days spent on strike on February 14-29.
According to GIG it has undertaken commitment to “gradually introduce” measures aimed at improving safety conditions in Mindeli and Dzidziguri mines in Tkibuli.
According to head of the Georgian Trade Union Confederation (GTUC), Irakli Petriashvili, the company has also undertaken commitment to address salary imbalances.
“GTUC and strike committee will jointly monitor the implementation [of the agreement],” Petriashvili told Civil.ge on March 1.
He also said that GTUC retains the right to take dispute over previous agreement, which was made during the previous strike of miners in Tkibuli in 2011 to court. According to that deal the company had to provide for indexation of wages to match them to the annual inflation rate. But GIG argues that the 2011 deal, which it describes as a memorandum, was not legally binding.
Georgian Industrial Group (GIG), which owns Tkibuli coal mines, is one of the country’s largest business holdings with operations in energy generation, retail and wholesale of natural gas, and real estate. The holding was founded by Davit Bezhuashvili, a long time lawmaker who was with formerly ruling and now opposition UNM party up until November, 2013. His brother, Gela Bezhuashvili, who is GIG’s non-executive director, served as foreign minister in 2005-2008 and then as head of intelligence service till late 2013.
GIG supplies coal from Tkibuli mostly to cement producing factories in Georgia, owned by HeidelbergCement Georgia where Germany’s HeidelbergCement holds 75% of shares and minority shares are held by entity affiliated to GIG. Gela Bezhuashvili serves as chairman of supervisory board of HeidelbergCement Georgia.