Government must take urgent action after latest mining death in Tkibuli

31 Jan, 2022

mining accident in Tkibuli on 30 January has killed one miner and injured eight more, according to media reports.

The Georgia Fair Labor Platform’s member organizations first would like to express their grief over the death of the miner. Further, we call on the state to immediately investigate the accident and to raise the issue of liability of relevant senior officials at Saknakhshiri LLC, the company operating the mine.

The mining industry, particularly in Tkibuli and Chiatura, is a hotbed of employee injury and death. Despite the urgent need for increased monitoring and security measures, according to the information available to the platform, the Labor Inspectorate has not conducted any inspections on Tkibuli mines in recent years. It is time for the Inspectorate to prioritize systematic preventative inspections of high-risk companies to protect worker safety.

According to the Labor Inspectorate’s preliminary assessment after yesterday’s accident, a number of significant safety violations were identified at the mine. Rules were not observed during explosive work and the concentration of methane gas in the air exceeded permissible levels.

In recent years, Tkibuli mines have become the epicenter of a continuous cycle of worker deaths due to systemic violations of labor safety rules and the lack of a government response. Since 2007, 41 people have been killed while working in Tkibuli’s mines. This alarming number should have prompted immediate changes to ensure the safety of Tkibuli’s miners; instead, the chain of systemic neglect and irregularities continues to this day.

In the fall of 2019, a new investor (Steel International Trade Company) took over Tkibuli’s mines, and took responsibility for re-equipping and upgrading operations. In a statement announcing the change, the Minister of Economy stressed the importance of safety standards, while the miners were promised that work would resume in a few months with improved conditions. This was ultimately not the case.

Following a tragic accident in 2018, in which 10 miners were killed, a report by a German engineering-auditing company was ordered by the state to improve safety in the mines. The report detailed a series of defective and chaotic extraction practices and contained recommendations for short-, medium- and long-term changes to ensure safety in Georgia’s mines. Unfortunately, these recommendations were not taken into account. In fact, in some cases, the safety situation in the mines deteriorated. Nor was there a consultation with workers at the mine to discuss implementation of the report’s recommendations.

Government policies have left residents of cities such as Tkibuli completely reliant on mines for employment. They have no other options. The government has a duty to ensure that these jobs are safe.

Based on the above, we call for:

  • The company “Saknakhshiri” to be suspended from operating its mines until maximum safety guarantees are provided. We also call for employees at the mines to be fully compensated during this time.

  • The Labor Inspectorate to thoroughly investigate the incident and take immediate measures to prevent such cases in the future. The Inspectorate should also conduct a thorough assessment of the safety situation in Georgia’s mines and take preventive measures to protect the lives and health of miners. Given the high public interest in this issue, the assessment and recommendations must be made public.

  • The Ministry of Internal Affairs / Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia to timely and thoroughly investigate the incident in the Tkibuli mine and to identify the relevant officials of the company who are responsible for any safety violations, deaths or injuries.

  • The Government of Georgia to suspend coal mining works in Tkibuli until the safety of workers is ensured. Employees should be fully compensated during this time.

Decent Labor Platform member organizations:

  • Center for Social Justice (formerly EMC);
  • Trade Union of Health and Services – “Solidarity Network”;
  • Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA);
  • Union of Social Workers;
  • Tbilisi Metro Independent Trade Union – “Unity 2013”;
  • Open Society Georgia Foundation (OSGF)