Georgia’s Parliament adopts historic labour law reform package

On 29 September, Georgia’s Parliament adopted an important labour law reform package. By offering much greater protection to workers, the adoption of the reforms, which were developed with extensive support of the ILO, constitutes a major step forward in bringing Georgia’s labour legislation in line with relevant international labour standards of the ILO and EU Directives and striking a better balance between the rights and interests of workers and employers.

News | 29 September 2020
Georgia has steadily climbed the ranks of the World Bank Ease of Doing Business index, holding place 7 in 2020, up 93 places from 2006. This position was achieved as a result of a programme of privatisation and liberalisation of the economy, the strengthening of political and social stability, and overcoming corruption. It came, however, at the cost of the protection of worker rights.

In 2006, the then-Government of Georgia adopted a new labour code that was based on the assumption that deregulation of labour would automatically attract investment and create jobs. The code not only did away with existing laws on collective agreements, labour disputes and employment conditions, but also dismantled the Labour Inspectorate and Employment Agency and dissolved the Georgia Labour Administration. This, along with its economic policy of labour market deregulation, virtually removed any level of protection for worker rights.

The current Government, elected in 2012 and 2016, has been working towards the gradual restoration of labour market institutions and has undertaken a number of encouraging steps in this regard, including legislative reform and taking steps towards the re-establishment of a labour inspectorate. However, in early 2019, it was the Parliament that provided a major boost to  promoting the establishment of a better balance between the rights and interests of workers and employers, by pursuing major reforms of the Labour Code and the development of a Law on Labour Inspection Services.

Between May 2019 and September 2020, the ILO provided extensive support in the development of the reform package by providing comparative legislative information, drafting amendments,  organising consultations with the Government, social partners and other stakeholders, and participating in Parliamentary Hearings. The main goal of the reform was to improve conformity of Georgia’s labour laws with relevant ILO Conventions and the EU Directives under the EU-Georgia Association Agreement to which Georgia committed to harmonise its legislation.

Dimitri Tskitishvili, the main sponsor of the reforms, stated that “[w]hile there are still challenges remaining in the legislation, the scale of the current reforms is unprecedented for Georgia. It addresses almost all the main challenges that employees currently face in their workplace and, as an outcome of the reform, we expect the establishment of a strong, independent, and fully-fledged labour inspection and a fundamental improvement of the protection of labour rights. This is a major step forward in avoiding polarization between employees and employers and forging a strong partnership for decent work and a healthy economic environment. I would like to thank the ILO for their indispensable support in the reform process, as it enabled us to make informed decisions taking into account international labour standards”.

The reform package, adopted by Georgia’s Parliament on 29 September with no votes against, consist of a Law on Labour Inspection Services and extensive amendments to the Labour Code,  which include provisions  concerning discrimination and equal pay, limits on verbal employment contracts, overtime hours , night work, mandatory weekly rest, part-time work, collective redundancy, and the transfer of undertakings. Crucially, the Law on Labour Inspection Services extends the mandate of the inspectorate to include labour rights and conditions, whereas it was hitherto limited to occupational safety and health issues.

Tamila Barkalaia, the Deputy Minister of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Labour, Health and Social Affairs of Georgia, highlighted the importance of implementation of the reforms and noted that “...adequate protection of labour rights is of significant importance for the Government of Georgia. With the support of the ILO, the Parliament of Georgia adopted amendments to the Labour Code, which noticeably increases the standard of human rights and labour rights in Georgia. We do express our readiness and willingness to direct all our efforts to ensure protection of labour rights in Georgia by establishing an effective and transparent enforcement mechanism together with our partner the ILO.”

Welcoming the reforms, Lejo Sibbel, Sr. Specialist on International Labour Standards and Labour Law of the ILO  Office for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said that “[t]he adoption of the reforms are a reflection of the increasing realization in Georgia that economic development and respect for labour rights must go hand in hand in order to ensure that economic development is not undertaken for its own sake, but to improve the lives of all Georgians. Although gaps remain, the adoption of the the Law on Labour Inspection Services and the amendments to the Labour Code constitutes a major step forward in bringing Georgia’s labour legislation in line with relevant international labour standards of the ILO. We thank the sponsors of the reforms for placing their trust in the ILO and commend them for their perseverance in seeing through the reforms.”

ILO assistance for the reform process was provided within the framework of the Project “Improved Compliance with Labour Laws in Georgia”, funded by the United States Department of Labour and the Project “Inclusive Labour Markets for Job Creation”, funded by the Government of Denmark (Danida).