The Fair Labor Platform welcomes the Ministry of Labor’s announcement that the Labor Inspectorate will investigate the working conditions and salaries of nurses working in Georgia’s hospitals. Although the move is long overdue, we are hopeful that it will lead to effective steps that improve the working conditions of medical staff.
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly worsened the already difficult working conditions of nurses. According to the New Confederation of Trade Unions, at least 23 nurses in Georgia have died of COVID-19 contracted at work (though data is limited and the real number is likely higher). Both the public and private hospital sectors, which for years have focused on transforming healthcare from a public good into a market commodity, have been completely unprepared for the coronavirus pandemic. This is especially evident in how they have treated their employees. For example:
Inadequate Remuneration: According to a study by Solidarity Network, the average salary of nurses in Georgia ranges from GEL 250 to GEL 508. This is insufficient to cover basic living expenses, and forces most of them to work second or third jobs.
Overtime work and excessive working hours: Since the start of the pandemic, nurses have been working an average of 76-92 hours per week – far above the normal working hours permitted by Georgia’s labor laws. At the same time, the average number of patients admitted per shift, per nurse increased from 11-19 to 15-24, which is well above the nurse-to-patient ratios set forth by international standards.
Wage theft: It is a common practice in Georgian medical institutions to delay or partially delay medical staff salaries for several months. This is a form of wage theft. Moreover, the majority of nurses (65.8% of respondents) indicate that they are not remunerated for overtime work at all, which under the Labor Code of Georgia should be remunerated at an increased rate. A number of nurses also reported non-payment of leave time. In some clinics, there has also been improper redistribution of emergency COVID funding from the government – money that should have gone to cover nurses’ salaries and overtime.
Abnormal work schedules: Due to the pandemic, nurses are working with reduced rest periods between shifts and are not allowed to take full advantage of their break time.
Obstruction of trade union activities: Against the background of these difficult working conditions, medical institutions are hindering trade union activities in the workplace, persecuting and intimidating employees who openly talk about harsh working conditions and/or carry out trade union activities.
The working conditions of medical workers have been neglected for years. The monopolist private sector and the state do not care about improving working conditions and increasing wages. The logic of exploitation and profit is directly proportional to the deepening of the pandemic’s seriousness. Difficult working conditions for nurses lead inevitably to a deterioration of patient care.
The Fair Labor Platform hopes that the Labor Inspectorate will thoroughly investigate the harsh working conditions in medical facilities and identify the violations identified by Solidarity Network, other organizations and employees. We also hope to see the Ministry of Health respond to the inspections effectively, taking concrete steps – not just making recommendations – to protect the rights of medical workers.
In order to eliminate the oppressive working conditions of nurses in Georgia, we call for:
- A comprehensive state review of medical staff remuneration, and the institution of a mandatory minimum/living wage for the medical sector.
- More state oversight on the issue of wage theft in medical institutions – in particular to prevent delayed salary payments and to investigate the mis-allocation of government COVID funding by hospitals.
- Improved regulation and oversight of working hours for medical staff, including strict recording of working hours, night work and overtime work. Moreover, overtime work must be paid at an increased rate and employees should be given the opportunity for rest days, break time and paid leave as provided by Georgia’s Labor Code.
- The establishment of a binding government standard for patient-to-nurse ratios, along with appropriate oversight and monitoring of its implementation.
- Hospital management must stop harassing and intimidating workers for trade union related activities.
This statement is endorsed by the following Fair Labor Platform member organizations:
- Trade Union of Health and Services – “Solidarity Network”;
- Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA);
- Social Justice Center (formerly EMC);
- Union of Social Workers;
- Tbilisi Metro Independent Trade Union – “Unity 2013”