“The mine is ours!“
More than one thousand miners have been on strike in the town of Tkibuli for already twelve days.
They are demanding improved working conditions and 40% salary increase (a miner’s average salary amounts to GEL400-500 (US$175-200)).
Tkibuli residents are also demanding restoration of the town’s mountainous region status, that Tkibuli was deprived of in 2016. [The population of the regions with mountainous status enjoy tax and other allowances].
Representatives of Ksani glass factory, Chiatura mine and Zestafoni ferroalloy plant trade unions expressed their solidarity with the miners on strike.
Tkibuli is a coal mining town in western Georgia.
Tents have been put outside the administrative building of “Saknakhshiri GIG Company, which is engaged in coal mining activity in Tkibuli. The miners sit up here night and day.
“Saknakhshiri GIG officials disagree with the miners’ demands. In their words, the company operates in full compliance with the Georgian Labor Code and strictly abides by the contracts concluded with the miners. The company claims, the miners did not notify the administration before launching a strike, which is a violation of the labor law. Therefore, their protest is illegitimate.
Dzidziguri and Mindeli coal mines are the ownership of “Saknakhshiri company, which, in its turn, is a subsidiary of the Georgian Industrial Group (GIG). GIG’s business portfolio includes coal mining, as well as power generation, retail and wholesale of natural gas, logistics and other trends.
Local self-government officials and Tkibuli majoritarian MP, Eliso Chapidze’s support, that they expressed by visiting the rally venue on the tenth day of protest, as well as resignation of the director of “Saknakhshiri Ltd. (GI Group)’s Elizbar Mindeli coal mine at the end of tenth day of the rally, have been the only results that the miners’ strike has yielded so far.
The miners claim, they will not disperse until their demands are met.
Located at an altitude of 590 meters above sea level, Tkibuli town has been witnessing unusual dusks and dawns for already twelve days. As Tkibuli residents put it, for the first time ever, they are waiting every minute for a verdict to be brought in their favor.
Gathering outside Tkibuli local government administration building has already become a custom for Tkibuli residents. They are waiting there for the salvation of their families and the city.
The youth, who have gathered in Tkibuli central park, are talking about politics, hard life and government.
Entrance to the municipal administration building has become the main rostrum.
‘We have launched a struggle for equality and justice. No one has ever lost struggle for decent human conditions, so we are not going to lose and surrender either, – says Ruslan Butskhridze, a miner, Tkibuli resident. During the day, Tkibuli residents are trying to encourage one another by appeals, patriotic poems and folk sayings.
‘Tightly-welded Tkibuli is not going to surrender, Tkibuli is brave men’s town’
‘Tkibuli is workers’ town ‘
‘If you are told hundred times that you are a slave, you should respond a thousand and one times that you are not! ‘ – these words could be heard at the miners’ rally.
Tkibuli is wedged between the mountains. So, we deserve a compensation and not the slavery for living here, ‘- says Giorgi Tsirekidze, a miner.
Tsirekidze tells, how they work, passing dozens of kilometers under the ground each day; how they go down deep into the earth, at the depth equal to a 9-storey building.
‘Administration officials lock from the outside those, who go deep into the ground, so that no one could go out into the air in the working hours,’ – emotionally tells Tsirekidze.
Miners say, they can hardly provide for their families with the meager salaries they receive.
‘We cough up black phlegm from the lungs and we have no money for medicines. We are suppressed by bank debts. To say nothing of the uniforms, that are rotten.’
People here say, fewer miners reach the retirement age: ‘This continues endlessly, so we have to stop it.’
‘That is why it is so important for our town to regain a mountainous region status. After Tkibuli had been deprived of this status, our salaries were cut by 20 percent,“ – the locals explain.
Under the law on mountain regions, that took its effect in Georgia on January 1 this year, Tkibuli municipality was deprivedof the mountainous area status. As a result, the miners lost their tax allowances.
Eliso Chapidze, a member of the parliamentary majority group from Tkibuli, pledged to restore the aforesaid status to the town, but the government does not hurry to restore Tkibuli’s status.
Local government officials also manifested their inconsistency to oppose “Saknakhshiri company.
‘We are as outraged as the miners and their families, who are rallying here. We will try to settle this issue jointly with the central government officials. ‘
‘Saknakhshiri’ company officials are not considering a 40-percent increase in miners’ salaries. “Saknakhshiri Deputy Director General, Technical Director Bezhan Balavadze, says that ‘after the Georgian Industrial Group holding undertook to restore the abandoned and flooded mines, the company has employed up to 1,500 people. Their average salary amounts to GEL 815. The company annually pays GEL 15 million to the state budget, including GEL 2 million, transferred to the local budget. ‘
At night, the miners light fire in the wood heaters in rough-and-ready tents and stay awake.