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Speech of Salome Zourabichvili, President of Georgia at The International Labour Conference

Speech of H.E. Salome Zourabichvili, President of Georgia at
International Labor Organization
108th (Centenary) Session
11 June, 2019
Geneva, Switzerland
 
Mr. Director-General,
Your Excellences,
Distinguished Guests,
Workers and Employers,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
 
One hundred years ago, in the midst of chaos, but at the dawn of the rapid social and technological change, the world witnessed the creation of the International Labor Organization. This institution was to assist the world to bounce back from the destruction and despair inflicted by war and to make human dignity and social justice the driving force for reconciliation and development – and it did.
 
In 1918,  a bit more than hundred years ago, Georgia gained its independence and as early as 1920 the Parliament of the young Democratic Republic of Georgia among the first package of legislation adopted its Law on Labor Contract, which defined all the fundamental rules for employment - protecting worker’s rights, allowing for collective agreements, labor courts and labor inspection.  
 
In fact, the 1921 Constitution was one of the oldest constitutions ensuring labor rights comprehensively. It established the right of assembly and strike, as well as the obligation for the state to create employment agencies and unemployment support. Hence, it is no surprise that Georgia that same year applied to join the ILO.
 
I cannot resist to read here the letter that was send by the Georgian Government at that time on 17th December, 1920. The Assembly of Geneva decided to reserve all the government of Georgia, arrived to participate on the same level as the other countries of the League of Nations, in the technical organization of the above-mentioned League. Given the particular situation occupied by international labor office which you are the president, I have the honor, at this moment on behalf of the Georgian government to request from your Excellency the urgent admission of Georgia to state representatives in this office signed by the Ministry of Foreign affairs at that time Mr. Gegechkori.
 
Tragically, the well-known historic events - Soviet occupation - have postponed our plans for 70 years and replaced labor rights with labor camps. Yet history has given us a second chance and in 1993, right after regaining independence in 1991, Georgia applied and joined the International Labor Organization.
***
In the past hundred years ILO has changed the rules of the game for the labor market and the world is seeing the results of the universal protection of workers’ rights and improved social justice through social dialogue.
 
The guiding principles we all adhere to, require from each of us to ensure that every person has the possibility to enjoy humane working conditions based on freedom and dignity, economic security and equal opportunity principles. These principles are still in most countries the goals to attain, rather than objectives reached.
 
We are all aware that economic growth and prosperity stand on the efforts, creativity and education of our citizens, as well as on inclusiveness and equality.
 
We all know how much effort ILO and each member country has put into promoting a proper environment of work and dignified conditions for the labor force.  
 
Nonetheless, we still have a long way to go:
 
Together we agree on the rules, adopt conventions. These principles are then translated into national legislations and then we strive to implement them – and that is the hardest part!
 
Georgia is no exception. As I am the first President of Georgia to address this Conference, I will use this opportunity to boast a little about our achievements and also, to recognize our challenges for the future.
 
Since joining the ILO, we ratified 18 conventions, including all fundamental ones. In 2018 Georgia ratified C144 Tripartite Consultation Convention.
 
The new Constitution of Georgia adopted last year, guarantees the economic and labor rights of our citizens. Article 26 guarantees the freedom to choose work; occupational safety and other labor rights; right to create and join trade unions; right to strike and right of entrepreneurship.
 
The Labor Code is continuously improved to harmonize with the principles of ILO and EU regulations and best practices.
 
Among the most recent achievement is the adoption of new Law on Occupational Safety. It establishes high standards of protection, effective sanctions, enhances the mandate of labor inspection and aims to change the working culture. The Law reflects the ILO recommendations and the respective EU directives. The Government is now working on enhancing the Labor Inspection in order to ensure a proper implementation of the standards.
 
The Parliament and the Government of Georgia are working on a further upgrade to the Labor Code; on the Laws on Trade Unions, Labor Mediation and a Minimum Wage.
 
The Law on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination adopted in 2014 was also an important step towards guaranteeing the rights of our citizens for equal treatment, including in labor relations.
 
Finally, we are proud that Georgia has taken, among the few that have moved in that direction, an important step towards ensuring equality in labor and pre-contractual relations, employment and occupation - by , a month ago, defining and prohibiting sexual harassment.
 
Equal opportunities and equal treatment of men and women are the principles that require constant attention. I, as the first female President of Georgia, consider those as my special responsibility;  the legislation needs refining in this regard, including wage gap, collective redundancies, fixed-duration or temporary employment relationships, and certain aspects of the organization of working time.
 
Tripartite cooperation in Georgia is in the process of the development:
 
 
The Tripartite Social Partnership Commission (TSPC) was set up in 2013. The Government undertakes steps to increase the role of the new Commission in the process of developing and implementing new initiatives, including at the regional level.
 
Achievement of fast, sustainable and inclusive economic growth based on creation of new jobs and promotion and enhancement of full and productive employment opportunities have been high on the agenda and one of the main priorities of Georgia’s economic policy, as declared in its Social-Economic Development Strategy of Georgia 2020.
 
Despite these achievements, despite progress in legislation and despite the clear political will on the part of authorities, we still face challenges:
 
High unemployment rate; lack of skilled workers. Work safety which is yet to be achieved. Inclusiveness that remains a goal.
 
Working with the ILO – sharing experience, applying new standards is the road to make a difference.
 
One of the answers is to focus our attention on Vocational Education and Training, to ensure improved qualification for all job seekers in the professions in demand.  
 
The Georgian Government decided to make education, and in particular vocational education and training, its top Budget priority for the next years. 
 
Circular migration is another of our top priorities as an instrument to tackle illegal migration and promote temporary legal employment abroad.
 
Circular migration benefits migrants, of both country of origin and country of destination. Georgia views it as a mechanism to transform and reduce irregular migration and thus protect rights of labor migrants, promote skills enhancement and human capacity development.
 
In recent years the Georgian government has been actively working on development of bilateral agreements in this field.  In December, 2018 such an Agreement has been signed with France.
 
Circular migration pilot schemes have been successfully tested with Poland and number of countries like Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, and Portugal have already expressed their readiness to cooperate this direction. We will continue identifying opportunities for cooperation in the field of temporary legal employment with all our partner countries.
 
None of this could and will be achieved without the continuous technical assistance and financial support of the International Labor Organization, of the European Union and of our bilateral partners through development cooperation projects.
 
Georgia well understands that compliance with the ILO principles and achieving sustainable development goals will bring our county closer to European Union standards and that facilitate our perspective towards integration.
 
Moreover, implementing ILO practices fully in Georgia is equal to bringing European quality of labor and social protection to our population; hence, reducing the strive toward migration and bringing Europe closer to us. Our goals are common goals.
***
Our achievements, our progress and all these new rights unfortunately, are not available throughout our territory and for our entire population.
 
As you know, 20% of Georgia is occupied by Russia. There is a severe security, human rights and humanitarian situation in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions; labor rights are no exception.
 
There is ongoing military build-up, closure of the so-called crossing points, illegal detentions and kidnapping along the occupation line; intensified ethnically-targeted human rights violations, deprivation of the right to life, prohibition of education in native Georgian language, as well as Abkhaz or Ossetian languages through and active policy of Russification, restriction of rights to freedom of movement, residence, and property.
 
International monitoring of the situation is impossible and the European Union Monitoring Mission that is mandated to operate throughout the whole territory of Georgia is not allowed in the occupied regions by the Russian Federation.
 
In its strive towards de-occupation Georgia depends upon and needs the strong support of the international community, of multilateral organizations and of its trusted partners.
***
During its 108th Session the Conference will adopt the ILO Centenary Declaration, based on the work done and the report of the Global Commission “working for a brighter future”. Georgia fully supports this recommendations.
 
The Commission co-chaired by H.E. Mr. Cyril Ramaphosa and H.E. Mr. Stefan Lofven with the support of the ILO Secretariat, has completed an important report, which outlines main challenges – the change of the nature of the work in the context of technological innovations, climate change, migration, globalization.
 
In a way, ILO is confronted today by the same radical challenges it met at its creation 100 years ago: a new world is emerging that will determine the new nature of work in the years and decades to come.  
More than ever, confronted by these changes the challenge for ILO and all of us will be to preserve human dignity and social justice.
 
Each and every challenge, each and every objective outlined in the report is shared by Georgia. We sometimes often try to individually tackle these obstacles to the development of our nations and to the prosperity of our citizens, individually. In reality, the extent of these new challenges can be effectively met only through cooperation and mutual support.
 
That’s why the world created the International Labor Organization 100 years ago. We come here and realize that in our struggles we are not alone. Here we share knowledge and best practices. Here, we think together and come up with common solutions.
 
The proposed “human-centered agenda for the future of work” is the only approach to withstand not only decades, but a century ahead.
 
Georgia shares the spirit of the Declaration and fully supports the call upon the Member States. Our people and the Government are committed to advance the human-centered approach for the future of work.
 
Finally, I again congratulate the International Labor Organization and every Member on the 100 year Anniversary. We have come this far together and so I wish you, and I wish ourselves as well, all success for the many more years to come.
 
Thank you for your attention.
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