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What is a trade union?

A defining feature of an employment relationship is that the employer and the employee are not on an equal footing. The employer is in a position of power. This creates a risk that the employer will abuse their advantage and exploit the worker. In order to achieve a balance between the parties, it is important to have regulations governing the employee-employer relationship, and for employees themselves to unite and protect their rights together.

A trade union is a voluntary and independent association (organization) of workers with common interests that fights to improve the labor, socio-economic and legal rights and interests of its members.

According to the Organic Law of Georgia on Trade Unions: “A trade union is a non-profit (non-commercial) legal entity established under the rules established by the Civil Code of Georgia. A trade union, by nature of its activities, represents a voluntary public association (organisation) of persons (workers) connected with common production and professional interests. The objective of trade unions is to protect and represent the labour, socio-economic and legal rights and interests of their members.” (Article 2, first paragraph)

Why a union?

Since employees are subordinate to employers in employment relations and are comparatively “weak,” they must stand together and show solidarity to establish a balance of power. Trade unions are formed and run by the workers themselves based on free will. By joining a union, workers fight together for common goals, which increases their likelihood of success.

According to the Constitution of Georgia, everyone has the right to form and join a trade union.

Trade union members are protected by law.

A trade union can be established in any enterprise, institution, organization or other workplace.

A trade union is an independent organization that has its own charter and budget. It is registered as a non-profit (non-commercial) legal entity by the National Agency of Public Registry.

Who has the right to form and join a trade union?

According to the Constitution of Georgia, everyone has the right to form and join a trade union. (Article 26)

Remember, forming or joining a trade union does not require the consent of the employer. No one has the right to prevent or prohibit employees from forming or joining a trade union.

All forms of discrimination, including on the grounds of trade union affiliation, are prohibited in labour and pre-contractual relationships, including when posting a job advertisement and at the selection stage.

A trade union can be formed to unite workers according to sectoral, industrial, territorial, or other professional specifics.

Some fields of work have special regulations regarding trade unions. For example, the process for establishing trade unions in the defense, internal affairs, tax, judicial and prosecutorial bodies of Georgia, as well as in the State Security Service of Georgia, are outlined in specific laws that apply to those sectors.

Everything you need to know to start a union

How to Form a Union

A trade union can be established at the initiative of at least 25 people. The establishment of a trade union does not require prior permission.

The first step is for 25 people to decide to establish a trade union at their own free will. The signatures on the document establishing the union must be certified appropriately (by a notary or a representative of the National Agency of Public Registry).

A trade union is registered just like any other non-profit (non-commercial) legal entity.

The next step in establishing a trade union is to draft an organizational charter, which should reflect all the necessary information required by law (see question on founding documents below).

The organization is registered by the National Agency of Public Registry.

Basic operating principles for trade unions

Trade unions must be governed democratically. Each member of the organization has the right to vote and participate in the trade union’s management. The trade union should not be headed by persons in management or with executive powers in the enterprise.

Trade union members should be actively involved in trade union activities and act in solidarity with each other.

The main goal of a trade union is to protect the rights of workers. Trade union management should not engage in covert transactions with employers and government officials. The activities and budget of the trade union should be transparent to all members.

What essential data should the founding documents of the trade union contain?

The trade union charter should include:

  • The name of the trade union;
  • Goals and objectives;
  • Procedure for admission and withdrawal of membership;
  • Members’ rights and responsibilities;
  • The structure of the trade union;
  • Competence and terms of office for union officers and governing/representative bodies (and the rules of operation of these bodies);
  • Procedures for sources of income and the use of income and property;
  • Conditions for amending the charter;
  • Grounds for termination of activity;
  • Location and area of ​​operation;

The charter may also specify other issues and procedures that are important for the trade union, in accordance with the legislation of Georgia.

Protection guarantees and basic rights of trade unions

  • A trade union protects and represents the labor and socio-economic rights and interests of its members.
  • A trade union protects the rights of trade union members to freely use their work opportunities, to choose a profession, and to receive fair remuneration for their work at least equal to the minimum amount established by law.
  • A trade union represents and protects the rights of its members before employers’ unions and the state. A trade union has the right to represent its members in court through qualified lawyers.

The trade union can also act to prevent the exploitation and oppression of employees and the violation of their labor rights. To this end, the union has the right to establish labor protection regulations and to establish a labor protection task force (consisting of labor technical experts, legal experts and trusted physicians), which will act based on the statute approved by the trade union.

Authorized representatives of a trade union may enter an enterprise, institution, organization, another workplace where trade union members work according to terms set out in labor and health laws, the trade unions law, collective agreements, sectoral agreements, and general agreements.

Trade unions have the right to:

  • Represent the interests of workers before the state;
  • Protect the labor rights of trade union members by filing a lawsuit or appearing in court or any other labor dispute resolution body;
  • Provide legal assistance to workers/trade union members;
  • Establish legal departments and consultations within its structure.
  • Initiate and conduct a collective dispute with the employer;
  • Enter into a collective agreement with the employer.

Who is subject to a collective bargaining agreement?

A trade union usually engages in collective bargaining with an employer to improve the working conditions of its employees. As the Constitutional Court of Georgia has explained:

“To maintain the best balance between protecting labor rights and ensuring labor contract freedom, the main source of influence for the employer must not be legislative prohibitions, but the private initiative of employees in terms of trade unions, collective bargaining, or other agreements.”

Unlike individual negotiations, in collective bargaining, the trade union has stronger leverage to achieve a positive outcome, because the balance of power of the negotiating parties is more equal.

A collective agreement entity can be one or more employers, one or more employers’ associations and one or more employees’ unions. The contract concluded between these parties should include labor rights, as well as the rules for regulating the relationship between the parties.

The parties themselves determine the terms of the collective agreement.

It is inadmissible for the state to interfere in any way in concluding a collective agreement.

What should a collective bargaining agreement include?

  • A collective bargaining agreement must be concluded in writing, for a definite or indefinite period.
  • The subjects of the agreement must be precisely defined in the agreement.
  • A collective bargaining agreement concluded for a definite period should specify the date of its entry into force and the expiration date.
  • A collective agreement concluded for an indefinite period should include provisions on its revision, modification, and termination.

Who can be a representative under a collective bargaining agreement?

The employees’ union is authorized to grant representation to any capable natural person. This person, in turn, will have the right to enter into, amend or terminate the collective agreement.

The representative of the employees’ union muat act in the interests of the employees who have given him the right of representation.

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