The Republic of Georgia is expected to see benefits from a package of sweeping reforms to the country’s labor legislation. The new policies will impact businesses across all sectors and regions of the country. The reforms, enacted on September 29, greatly expand the protection of the rights of workers. It also institutes safety standards and protection against discrimination, as well as ensuring the independence of a new Labor Inspectorate, which has been defunct since 2006.
The reform follows several years of progress on labor safety measures, including occupational health and safety laws passed in 2018 and 2019. It was designed in response to an alarming upward trend in worker deaths in the mining and construction industries.
While the 2018 law focused only on high-risk sectors, the 2019 law expanded focus to all sectors of the economy. The new provisions, which allow officials to inspect enterprises without prior notice and mandate companies to have in-house safety specialists, went into force in September 2019. There have, however, been delays in implementation due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The new legislation will benefit Georgia on several fronts. As support for ESG (economic, social, and corporate governance) standards has grown among investors, especially those from the EU and U.S., strong labor compliance has become more essential for companies looking to attract constructive capital and join global supply chains. Moreover, the successful implementation of the labor safety law and labor code is critical for Georgia’s further integration into European and Euro-Atlantic structures and is a prerequisite for membership into the EU, which has been an important part of Georgia’s geopolitical agenda for the past decade.
While Georgia’s government has taken steps to enforce the new labor safety requirements, further efforts are needed to ensure the success of Georgia’s labor reforms by making the implementation process more transparent and inclusive of its key stakeholders: the business community, workers, and their representative organizations. Some of the hurdles to the execution of Georgia’s new labor safety legislation include a lack of occupational health and safety specialists, limited engagement with the business community throughout the reform processes, absence of social dialogue between employers and employees, and more importantly a lack of awareness regarding labor safety rights among Georgian companies and the labor force. Further, as in many post-Soviet republics, Georgia experiences shortcomings in the labor safety culture, which, combined with the old reputation of labor inspectors as corrupt bribe solicitors, poses challenges for the promotion and widespread adoption of labor compliance.
To support effective implementation of the new labor reforms, improve working conditions, and foster a labor compliance culture in Georgia, the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) joined forces with the Solidarity Center under the “Strengthening Labor Law Enforcement and Improving Labor Safety in Georgia” program in July 2020. The program, funded by the US Department of Labor, represents the first-ever partnership between CIPE and the Solidarity Center on such important issues as labor safety implementation.
Under the program, CIPE and the Solidarity Center, in collaboration with the Georgian Trade Union Confederation and the Economic Policy Advocacy Coalition, will organize an awareness campaign for workers and employers and train businesses and business associations on the new labor safety regulations. The initiative also aims to improve industrial relations at various levels, including through social dialogue between employers and workers, as well as policy dialogue between the Government of Georgia, business associations, and workers’ representatives.