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Rights Group: Lax Regulation Puts Georgian Miners At Risk

Miners leaving the Mindeli coal mine in Tkibuli, a town in central Georgia, in July 2018.
Miners leaving the Mindeli coal mine in Tkibuli, a town in central Georgia, in July 2018.

Incommensurate labor regulation is putting the lives of Georgian miners in danger resulting in work-related injuries, sleep deprivation, and restricted freedom of movement, a 60-page Human Rights Watch (HRW) report says.

Released on August 22, the report documents how the Georgian government isn’t doing enough to ensure the safety of miners leaving them at the mercy of employers who take advantage of weak government oversight.

The report said work hours, rest time, weekly breaks, and night work, are insufficiently controlled.

This allows employers to emphasize production quotas over workers’ safety, HRW said.

““Thousands of workers will be at heightened risk until Georgia regulates working hours and creates a system to inspect the broad impact of working conditions,” said Corina Ajder, Finberg fellow at Human Rights Watch. “It is entirely in Georgia’s power to protect workers and improve conditions for their health and safety.”

Some miners work 12-hour shifts, including at night, for 15 consecutive days, which leads to exhaustion and sleep deprivation.

They often get penalized for not meeting production quotas and are forced to live in dormitories, separated from their families and homes.

HRW said Georgia’s largest manganese producer, Georgian Manganese (GM), exploits the weak regulation to maximize production at the expense of the health and safety of its miners, allegations that GM denies.

GM defended the practice of dormitory residence because it “ensures that miners get the rest they need in living conditions that enhance safety,” the report said.

HRW documented work-place injuries, which have included miners buried under collapsing roofs, the loss of limbs, and concussions.

One miner suffered a deep cut that exposed his ribs when his colleague fell asleep on the job next to him and accidentally turned on a piece of mining equipment.

The current situation stems from 2006 when the Labor Inspectorate was abolished, and the labor code underwent drastic changes.

Consequently, workplace deaths soared by 74 percent in 2007-2017 after the Labor Inspectorate was dissolved, according to a study by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation that used data collected by the Interior Ministry, Health Ministry, and the Georgian Trade Union Confederation.

Most of the deaths occurred in mining and construction.

“The average number of deaths at work per year in Georgia was 41, compared to an average of 24 deaths per year between 2002 and 2005,” HRW said.

Georgia has gradually reintroduced more labor protections and a new Labor Inspectorate was established in 2015 with a limited mandate.

“It cannot address the broader impact of long working hours, production pressures, and difficult working conditions, for example,” HRW said.

HRW said more needs to be done, including giving the inspectorate more powers, the ratification of International Labor Organization conventions, and bringing legislation in line with EU laws.

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