In an important step to protect workers, the Georgian parliament passed major changes to the country’s labor code this week. The reforms address such important issues as working hours, overtime, night shifts, weekly rest, daily breaks and, perhaps most importantly, they strengthen the Labor Inspectorate by giving it more independence and expanding its mandate.
The reforms aim to close the large gaps in worker protection that have been created by more than a decade of radical deregulation in Georgia. To attract foreign investment, Georgia abolished its labor inspectorate in 2006 and drastically reduced worker protection. The workers paid a heavy price. An independent study found that the number of deaths at work had increased 74 percent since 2006, mostly in mining and construction.
Although Georgia resumed its labor inspection in 2015, it had a very limited mandate to address health and safety-related issues, but not labor rights.
Human Rights Watch’s 2019 report showed how poor occupational health and safety, along with limited government oversight, encouraged dangerous mining practices. For example, because labor legislation did not provide adequate time off, some employees worked 84-hour weeks instead of the 40 or 48 hours required by law. Workers at some manganese mines worked underground 12-hour shifts for 15 days, including at night, with no formal breaks during shifts, causing exhaustion and increasing the likelihood of accidents and injuries. Our research has shown that there is a direct link between labor rights and workers’ health and safety, and that the labor inspectorate must have a mandate to deal with the broader effects of long hours, production pressures and difficult working conditions.
The reforms mean that employers must give workers a week’s notice of overtime whenever possible and provide overtime pay along with a monthly salary. Working hours for people who work in dangerous conditions at night should not exceed 8 hours per 24 hours. The reforms also provide for 60-minute breaks for working days that last longer than 6 hours. And the reforms empower the Labor Inspectorate to oversee all labor standards guaranteed under Georgian law.
Other work issues remain to be addressed and the success of the reform will depend on its implementation. However, if the reformed Labor Code goes into effect on January 1, 2021, it will be a big step in the right direction for workers in Georgia.