Shukruti residents protest Georgian ManganesePublished by MAC on 2021-05-22
Source: Civil.ge, Agenda.ge, JAMnews
Villagers say 70% of homes are in unlivable conditions.
Three residents of the village of Shukruti in Chiatura District (Imereti Region) have stitched up their mouths in protest against Georgian Manganese Ltd. The Chiatura protests are demanding that the mines stop operating in the area, Georgian Manganese compensate them for the damages caused and have the government involved in solving the issues that the community is currently faced with, JAMnews reported.
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The Georgian Manganese (GM), the company behind the mining works in Shukruti village of western Chiatura municipality, Imereti region, said on May 20 it is ready to meet locals’ demands of the damage compensation.
Shukruti locals have been protesting for over 90 days now, alleging that nearby mining activities lead to the sinking soil and consequently, the destruction of their homes and orchards. Since May 11, some of the protesters have sewed up their lips as a radical form of protest.
Locals’ demands include fair compensation based on property value estimates carried out by the Levan Samkharauli National Forensics Bureau “as specified by law,” state-brokered agreement between them and the company, and termination of “unlawful” prosecution against the protesters.
According to locals, destructive mining works in the village had been ceased after Soviet years, only to resume some six years ago after a commercial company entered the area. The mining is carried out by Shukruti+ company, a contractor of Georgian Manganese, the industrial giant with key subsidiary enterprises across Georgia.
Villagers say 70% of homes in Shukruti are in unlivable conditions, noting “people here fear each day and night.” Giorgi Neparidze, Shukruti local, said “each resident in Chiatura and nearby villages has to live in inhumane, unbearable conditions, the entire Chiatura faces disaster, not merely our village.”
Giorgi Neparidze also said earlier that protesters had been spending nights in tents and had even blocked mine entrances, but works resumed after police used force. Afterwards, threats started coming [from the company]: we will burn you, extinguish you, if you don’t stop,” he said, adding that four protesters have been later charged with “unlawful interference with the activities of the company” and are currently released on bail.
He also accused the Georgian authorities of negligence, claiming nobody from the government approached them since the villagers sewed up their lips in protest. Neparidze further said the company was not willing to estimate their property value as specified by law, relying instead on arbitrary and “unclear” estimates.
Social Justice Center, a CSO monitoring the protests, said on May 21 that “vague, untransparent” accountability and supervision practices established between the state and Georgian Manganese and its contractors make fair calculation and administration of compensations impossible. The CSO also approached the State Department of Environmental Supervision and the National Agency of Mines to immediately start overseeing GM’s activities.
Company’s arguments and concessions
Georgian Manganese called false the reports that the company in charge of mining activities “causes damage for Shukruti residents and refuses to properly compensate them,” claiming the allegations “only serve to mislead the public.”
However, the company said on May 20 it was ready to request Samkharauli Forensics Bureau to estimate the due compensation, as demanded by protesters, under the condition that “the stalled negotiation over the compensation with these residents moves into a legal domain and the existing dispute is resolved through justice.”
According to the GM, the contractor company has been negotiating with locals over the damage since 2019, which led to a memorandum signed by the majority of the villagers. The company said an independent expert was invited upon villagers’ request to carry out value assessments. “Despite the memorandum, part of the population disagreed with the estimates and resorted to protests.”
Shukruti+ has paid up to GEL 2 mln (USD 600,000) in compensations since June 2020, GM asserted, adding that the company remains ready to conclude individual treaties with those protesting. The company also noted that the amount of compensation estimated by a private auditor “far exceeds” the actual market price of villagers’ properties, and, on top of that, the respective properties continue to be owned by locals.
Another ten protesters have gone on hunger strike.
The Chiatura protests began on April 23, 2021, when local miners and farmers failed to have their demands met at the negotiation table. The main requirements that the activists have revolved around environmental protection since manganese mining operations have caused serious damage to the local environment. Some homes were also severely damaged and the situation continues to deteriorate.
The protesters demand the ore mines stop operating in the area, Georgian Manganese compensate them for the damage and have the government involved in solving the issues that the local residents are currently faced with.
What do the protesters demand?
Residents of the village of Shukruti claim that the methods of manganese extraction have caused severe damage to many houses and left many people fearing for their lives.
The decision to undertake a more categorical form of protest has been made after the negotiations that lasted for 85 days did not result in a workable agreement. An attempt to put up a tent in front of the building of the Chiatura district administration was also suppressed.
Collapsing houses are not the only problem that worries the residents of Shukruti. The passage of the mine below the courtyards led to the appearance of cracks, making the land unsuitable for agriculture.
“Houses are crumbling above our heads, the earth is cracked. Mayor Givi Modebadze did not allow us to put up a tent. We were unable to attract the attention of either the company or the government by any means. Now we are forced to move to an extreme form of protest”, local residents said.
The village of Shukruti has turned to the Public Defender for help.
This is not the first protest against manganese mining that has occurred in the region. For many years, the authorities have been unable to cope with the massive environmental damage caused by mining, despite the fact that the state has appointed a special manager to monitor the situation.
During the first phase of the protest, in April, workers from the mines also joined the protesters. They demanded a 50% increase in wages, better insurance packages, the transfer of employment contracts to hired workers, and a ban on the movement of heavy vehicles around the city.
On these issues, an agreement was reached between the company and the employees, and they returned to their jobs.
11 May 2021
Three individuals living in the village of Shukruti in Chiatura in western Georgian region of Imereti, have sewed their mouths shut to protest the activities of Georgian Manganese, a producer and exporter of ferroalloys and manganese ore.
The protesters say that the activities of Georgian Manganese cause landslides, damages roads and local houses.
Protesters are demanding Georgian Manganese compensate them for the damages, but the company does not agree to this claim.
The company claims that the damage indicated by the protesters is related to works done during the Soviet period and was already compensated back then.
It is the 85th day that the people of Shukrut have been holding continuous protests.
Two weeks ago, they tried to set up a tent in front of Chiatura City Hall, however the police and the city mayor did not allow it.
Currently, a tent of protesters is standing in Shukruti, near the Korokhnali mine.
"The company has taken verbal responsibility for this problem with us so many times, but these are just words. Therefore, we demand that the central government be involved in solving this problem”, said Giorgi Neparidze, a resident of Shukruti.
The locals held demonstrations with the same demands in September 2019 as well, when the residents blocked the road leading to the Georgian Manganese and stopped operating manganese mines.
Following the September protests, a commission was set up with the Georgian Manganese, Chiatura mayor and the village governor, to investigate the damage and then start compensating for the loss, but locals say the commission's work has not yielded any real results.
The Georgian Manganese, a company that together with its affiliates and subsidiaries runs the mining sector in the western Georgian town of Chiatura, announced today it has reached an agreement with a part of some 3,000 workers, on strike since April 23 and demanding a pay rise of 50%.
As per the deal, employees of one of the company subsidiaries are set to receive a GEL 250 (USD 72) monthly salary increase and an annual holiday bonus in the same amount. The new terms will be signed into contracts on April 26 and enter into force on May 1, with workers resuming their duties tomorrow, according to the company.
Georgian Manganese said this, along with a 5.2% increase in the tariff rate, is the “maximum” it can offer, and the terms stand for the rest of the miners which continue the strike.
It is currently unclear how many of the workers have agreed to the proposed terms.
Meanwhile, the Georgian Trade Unions Confederation, a labor union, has said the offered GEL 250 pay rise is “not acceptable” as it constitutes on average a 25% salary increase, falling short of the workers’ demand for 50%.
The miners, themselves, cite increasing consumer prices, heavy working conditions, and health issues as their key concerns. “We enter into hell,” a local miner told Formula TV yesterday, describing his experience in working the Chiatura mines.
“I have worked for 20 years already, and I have fought this company [Georgian Manganese] for 20 years, not alone, but together with people, but nothing has been solved during these 20 years,” he added.
In remarks with the Georgian media, some of the workers have also highlighted the need for improved health insurance terms, a demand that apparently remains unaddressed in the Georgian Manganese statements so far.