People wait at a a cable car station decorated with graffiti of a Georgian miner in the city of Chiatura, Georgia, August 31, 2018.

© 2019 AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka

Protesting poor working conditions and demanding higher wages, about 150 workers at a manganese mine in Chiatura, Georgia, went on strike May 15. On Friday, 15 of the workers reportedly began a hunger strike. Manganese is an element used in making stainless steel.

Human Rights Watch conducted research on the working conditions in extractive industries in Georgia, and heard how miners, like those on strike, work shifts of 15 consecutive days, working 12 hours a day underground, including at night. During this time, they are required to live in a company dormitory, where, some told us, food is insufficient for the effort required on the job, and restrictions on their movement keep them away from their homes and families nearby.

Negotiations between workers and the mine operators appear to be temporarily stalled.

In April, the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights expressed concern that the organization of work and the dormitory system at the manganese mine were not consistent with international labor standards.

Poor working conditions are endemic in Georgia, where labor laws and enforcement remain substandard – even after recent government reforms. Georgian law does not provide for mandatory weekly rest or breaks during shifts, and the country’s labor inspectorate is not permitted to check all working conditions. In March, the European Committee of Social Rights noted that the lack of an appropriate authority to monitor daily and weekly working limits places Georgia in violation of its obligations under the European Social Charter.

The manganese company should listen carefully to workers’ complaints and take steps to ensure safe and fair working conditions. Georgia should bring its labor code in line with International Labour Organization standards and put in place a full labor inspectorate with powers and resources to monitor and enforce all labor rights.