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Chinese Exploiters and Wood in Samgrelo Region That Was Sold for 20 Million Lari

19.09.2007
On September 15, Georgian workers of the Georgian-Chinese Sawmill in the village of Lia in Tsalenjikha district went on a strike. The reason for their protest was terrible working conditions, short wages, and lack of labor contracts, security measures and health insurance. Former and current workers of the enterprise complain about hard work and they say that Chinese directors of the company were exploiting them. Nearly thirty workers demand to protect their rights.

A year ago Georgian-Chinese Company purchased forest in Tsalenjikha and Chkhorotsku districts for twenty-year-term and invested 20 million lari in it. However, Chinese people appeared in the village of Lia two years ago and settled in the building of JSC “Lia”. The door for old shareholders of the JSC was closed for ever. Chinese people repaired the building and entrepreneurs from the town of Urumcha in Ksinjian province of China settled in the building comfortably. Investor U Minch tried to employee local people in order to make his business successful. However, fifty workers were invited from China and only thirty Georgian people were employed in his enterprise. Chinese employees do not work physically there; they are either technical workers or office personnel. As for Georgian workers they do hardest work in construction, repair and production work-shops. Salaries of Chinese workers are from 400 to 500 USD while Georgian people receive only 10 lari a day.

Tamaz Samushia, the worker: “They are making fun of us when they pay ten lari a day. We are dragging heavy fresh wood to sawing machines though that must be done by special cranes. Is not it exploitation?”

Tamaz Dochia, worker: “None of us has signed labor contract with enterprise administration. Thus we do not know our rights and responsibilities. I have been working here for several days and it is very hard work. They do not let us smoke and have a rest. Chinese supervisor watches us all the time.”

According to workers, the hardest work is in boiler-room, where wooden raw materials are boiled. Georgian workers there receive 300 lari but they work 24 hours a day. Most workers cannot stand such regime, high temperature, eradiation and dust from special machines. They stay in the enterprise only for two or three months. Most of them had health problems, their windpipe and blood circulation system was damaged.

There are no medical personnel in the company. Consequently, nobody can provide first medical assistance for damaged workers. Their health is not ensured and Chinese owners do not take care about their employees’ health. There are not security measures in the enterprise and very often workers are damaged by labor traumas.

Erekle Berishvili, a worker at the enterprise, said: “A huge log fell on my foot. I was seriously injured; however, I returned to work five days latter. Company Administration assisted me neither financially nor medically.”

Last year, workers tried to hold demonstration. The reason was controversy with Lin Dzendug, Chinese chief of the Work-shop. However, finally they did not go on a strike because of fear to lose their wages. “Regarding the holiday we asked Lin Dzendug to leave job several hours earlier; though we promised to finish our work. We kept our promise and finished our work however he did not let us leave job earlier. On the next day he demanded us to do more. We are slaves.”

Zurab Gogokhia, former worker of the enterprise, also speaks about the exploitation from Chinese investors. He was forced to stop work on the seventh day of his employment. He had argument with Dzendug. “They were making fun of us. They forced us to do work once again because of small mistake. One of the workers, Gabo Gabisonia stood in the water for a year and at 8:00 PM he was ordered to dig holes. Seeing him I got so angry that ran after twenty Chinese employees to punish for it. I left the work on the same day.”

Workers complain not only about the conditions there; they also promised to leave job as soon as one of their colleagues was fired from the enterprise. Moreover, labor contracts cannot stop them because there is not any in the administration. Malkhaz Samushia, a Georgian Lawyer of the company, showed us the contracts signed early in 2006. One more interesting fact-the old contracts are signed by Mikheil Kanataria that time General Director of the enterprise. The lawyer considers oral contracts with workers are enough to employ people.

Malkhaz Samushia confesses that many things are not in order in the company; but he cannot resolve those problems because he is hired employee himself. Lui Jiang, Director General of the Company, said that they might reduce the working day to eight hours; as for wages he excludes possibility to increase them soon. Workers and Administration has not reached agreement yet.

Tsalenjikha Municipality Administration got interested in the working conditions in the Sawmill of the village of Lia. They sent two letters to the enterprise and demanded information; though there is no reply yet. Giorgi Vekua, deputy of the village of Lia to the Municipality and Vakhtang Kalandia, chairman of the Legal and Human Rights Commission within the Municipality involved the situation. Tsalenjikha Municipality Governor, Gia Mebonia, claimed that in any case the rights of the workers will be violated and they will react on it.

Zaza Kvatsabaia, coordinator of the Human Rights Center’s Samegrelo region’s office, stated that the situation in sawmill contradicts with the Georgian Law on Labor. “There are not contracts between workers and administration that is envisaged under the Georgian Law on Labor, Article VI. Workers do not know their rights; what they have to do in the enterprise; the length of working day and amount of wages are not known.” Zaza Kvatsabaia does not exclude possibility to find financial violations in the company.

Nana Pazhava, Zugdidi 

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