Remarks by Ambassador Ian C. Kelly Parliament and ILO Labor Event (November 9)
Good morning. Thank you Chairman Kobakhidze, Zsolt Dudas of the ILO, and members of Parliament for organizing this event and taking a leadership role on this important subject. Labor reform can be hard to discuss because it is touches so many parts of economy and government—it spans the democratic experience. Labor rights means more than regulations and rules, it’s about the rule of law. It’s not just about workers’ rights, but human rights.
It’s about how we respect each other as co-workers and citizens, and about the democratic structures necessary for building the kind of country where we’d all like to live.I know there is concern that labor reform will be hard for businesses. Things are moving now; the economy is creating jobs, tourism and construction are booming. No one wants to jeopardize that success. But right now, Georgia is operating without basic labor standards that people in most industrialized countries take for granted.
I’ve seen growing awareness and significant progress in this area the past two years. I commend that success. And I am confident that governmental leaders—many of whom are here today–are committed to finding a way forward that will respect the wishes of labor and business. The process will not be easy, and it will involve compromise and patience. Procedures will likely need to be revised, which will require responsible dialogue from the government, businesses, and civil society.
The best place for this dialogue is through the Tri-Partite Social Commission, which I encourage you all to re-invigorate. In the short term, some basic changes are necessary. We need to push ahead with an Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) law, and I am aware that process is underway. With the OSH law in place, the government needs to hire a capable leader for the 25 labor inspectors it has hired and trained to ensure accountability. A fully functional labor inspectorate should be able to do its job with the backing of the government, the understanding of the workers those inspections will protect, and the cooperation of the private sector.
It’s a huge responsibility– the inspectors have to respect the limits of their mandate and the rule of law, or they risk undermining their entire purpose and casting doubt on the government’s intentions. The value of events, like this one today, is bringing together the parties to engage in dialogue about must be done for Georgia to meet its international obligations.
Georgia is a remarkable place with so much to admire. But one of the finest traits I see in Georgians is its vision. The government, and the people who elected it, want a high-functioning, modern society, one that reflects the best of America and Europe but keeps its Georgian heart. As a country, you have set goals and targets that too many seemed impossible, and yet you continue to surprise. Some will say that labor reform is too hard, or too expensive, but you have come too far to stop short.
I’ve seen that once Georgia decides something, your capacity for change and action, your ability to envision a better country for your families and your children, will lead you to success.
Ambassador Kelly’s Remarks to Media at Labor Reform Conference
Q-n about the event
Ambassador Kelly: Well, I think, we are very encouraged by this event because it indicates a very important dialogue between labor unions and the government and employers, and we have been very much involved. We have been very supportive of the International Labor Organization, we have helped fund a lot of these recommendations and, of course ,we will follow this very closely, as it proceeds through Parliament, but we are very encouraged by the progress that Georgia has made so far.
Q-n about the report “Conflict in Georgia” issued by the Council of Europe
Ambassador Kelly: Well, I’m aware of sort of the general perimeters and recommendations of the report; we can only welcome such a report. The United States has been very concerned by the closure of the process from the administrative boundary line, between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia and, of course, by some of the developments regarding illegal detention of people who cross the [inaudible]. And I think, you know, anything that can be done to raise awareness of some of these developments is very welcome, and so we very much welcome the report of the Council of Europe.