Georgia's labor inspectorate has backed down on transparency

Against a backdrop of pervasive labor violations and a lack of protection of workers' rights, Georgia's labor inspectorate's decision to stop naming and shaming employers who violate their workers' rights is a step backwards

Georgia's newly formed labor inspectorate, responsible for overseeing worker safety and rights in the country, began removing employers' names from its public inspection reports in mid-April, prompting outcry and legal resistance from labor watchdog organizations.

Understandably, companies felt uncomfortable when their violations of labor laws and regulations were publicly exposed, sometimes resulting in fines and other penalties. However, this transparency served as an additional incentive that encouraged them to address these violations and also allowed workers to review their employer's performance in terms of labor rights and safety.

On July 5, the Social Justice Center filed a lawsuit against the regulator on behalf of the Georgia Fair Labor Platform, a coalition of unions and civil society organizations, challenging the move. It has been argued that the names of employers who violate labor rights are not protected by Georgia's data protection law or are considered “confidential information,” as the regulator claims.

The lawsuit also points out that regressions in transparency violate common practice.

A serious blow to transparency

For almost three years, the Labor Inspectorate has shared its inspection reports with the Fair Labor Platform through Freedom of Information requests. The Fair Labor Platform has uploaded these reports to its website Labor Law Monitoran online database that allows the public to freely access the reports.

The regulator's new position is a serious blow to transparency. It also violates the government's international human rights obligations to ensure workers' rights to a safe and healthy workplace and to access information held by officials, including information about unsafe working conditions.

The watchdog itself does not have an online database or publish its inspection reports, so the Labor Rights Monitor filled a gap and gave the public insight into its important work. The hope was that more openness – disclosing company names, specific violations and sanctions – would increase public trust and encourage both companies and the regulator to continually improve.

The regulator's recent history underscores why transparency and earning the public's trust are important.

In 2006, Georgia dramatically reduced worker protections the labor inspection was abolished as part of broader economic reforms aimed at attracting foreign investment. The move was catastrophic for the workers: deaths occurred at work increased by 74%and the promised benefits of new jobs failed to materialize as unemployment persisted rising until 2010.

The regulator was revived in 2015, albeit with greatly reduced powers; His mandate allowed him to deal with issues related to health and safety, but not labor rights. These powers expanded In 2019, the possibility to carry out unannounced inspections on safety issues in all sectors was introduced, and in 2021 the mandate was expanded again all labor rights. Georgia too revised In 2021, the Labor Code will be introduced, introducing regulations on issues such as working hours, night shifts and rest periods, bringing it closer to international standards and expanding the mandate of the regulator.

Finally, the conditions have been created for the labor inspectorate to develop into a real guardian of workers' rights.

“They treat us like slaves”

Georgia urgently needs such a guardian. The employment law landscape is bleak, as a Wave of strikes and worker protests in the first half of 2023. Unpaid overtime is widespread, Wage theft by employers is common, but laws protecting union activities are weakBosses can be abusiveand most salaries are falling far below a living wage. In theory, legal remedies are available in court, but they take years to enforce and require financial resources that most workers do not have. With unemployment hovers at 18%Many workers are hesitant to speak out for fear of losing their income entirely.

The result is a system in which employers largely do what they want. As a delivery person told Georgian media “treats us like slaves.”

Many hoped that an effective labor inspectorate could change this. However, true effectiveness must be based on a transparent basis so that the public can see that the regulator's work is credible and impartial.

Concealing employer identities – even though the Georgia Constitutional Court has done so governed in 2017 that such information should be public – contradicts this goal. It also confirms a fear we have often heard from workers: that the regulator serves employers, not employees. If this is the case, why should employees trust that their complaints will be addressed?

The Fair Labor Platform's Labor Rights Monitor was designed to help promote this transparency, and the early returns were promising. By early 2023, the monitor included over 500 inspection reports and received more than 12,000 page views.

The information obtained from the database has enriched the public debate on labor rights and has fed into several reports and statements by the Fair Labor Platform and its members. It helped facilitate research Wage theftrevealed worrying developments in the App based Gig Economy and provided important context to abuses in the economy construction, MiningAnd public sectors.

All this is now threatened by the labor inspectorate's decision to put the interests of employers above the rights of workers.

If the Georgian government is serious about improving workers' rights, it must first ensure that the work of the labor inspectorate is transparent and open. You don't have to wait for a court order. The labor inspectorate should do the right thing and make the reports publicly available.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the OC Media editorial team.

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