Georgia has long struggled to revive its economy after the chaos that followed the Soviet Union’s collapse; a period that in the 1990s saw inflation top 15,000 percent and wages plummet by 90 percent, dragging thousands of families into desperate poverty. After the 2003 Rose Revolution, Georgia adopted neo-liberal economic policies and slashed red-tape in a bid to attract international investment. The result was a dramatic increase in GDP growth, but the fruits of that growth were not widely shared.
Poverty, despite decreasing, still affects one-third of the country’s population of 3.7 million, with 32 percent living on less than $2.50 per day, official data from 2016 states. The country’s overall official unemployment rate stands at 14 percent.
But from an employer’s perspective, the situation is favorable. Misha Kordzakhia, vice-president at the Georgian Employers’ Association, a Tbilisi-based organization uniting hundreds of small, midsize and large businesses, maintains that companies do not want to pay a lot of money in salaries to people working in customer services.
The salaries are in line with the law of supply and demand, he maintains -- since many people apply for customer-service jobs, companies do not have to pay more. The 2013 labor code already defines procedures for overtime pay, contract termination and women’s rights, he adds.
Georgia’s minimum wage is set at a mere 177 laris ($72) per month, according to the statistics office, but that does not worry Kordzakhia.
Businesses, as taxpayers, are not concerned with poverty-stricken people or other social-welfare issues, he maintains. “Business does not aim to provide more jobs, but to gain profit.”
That has done little to help Levan Chalatashvili, who was forced to drop out of his studies in business administration because of financial constraints. With his family living far from Tbilisi, he tried to support himself while he studied, but that proved impossible.
The 23-year-old’s first job in a hypermarket involved physical activity -- assembling shelves, carrying and arranging products and checking their validity -- and he often had to work overtime.
“They said that the schedule was flexible. And you are under strict camera control -- they check who you talk to, who you smile at. Being sick was not an option. Once, I had a pulmonary inflammation, another time I an ear infection, but I knew that if I didn’t go to work, I would not be paid,” he says.