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Seven Teachers Dismissed Without Justification in Tbilisi

Nona Suvariani, Tbilisi

As the result of the education system reform the teachers can be dismissed for no particular reason and without opportunity for recourse. Such a process is supported by the Labor Code of Georgia.  In short, teachers can be terminated without cause and there is nothing that they can do about it.

A lot was said about the conflict between the principle and teachers of Public School #149 of Temka District, Tbilisi, as they have been at odds and disagreeing for a year. The conflict finally ended when 7 teachers, including some who were members of board of trustees, including the head of the teachers’ association, the head of teachers’ educational council and the deputy principle were all dismissed. Even though, one part of teachers was dismissed back on June 27 and others on July 3, no one told them why they lost their jobs up as this article is written. 

The principle of Public School # 149 similar to other school principles was appointed one year ago by lottery. The conflict started when Maia Giorgadze, the Public School # 149 principal decided to sign one year contracts with the teachers. The teachers say that the principle even tried to make them sign the contract under less than transparent conditions – and with a degree of deception. In particular, on March 8, 2008 the principle invited the women teachers in the dining room for celebrating Women’s Day. After having the first toast the principle ordered that the dining-room door was locked and the contracts distributed and signed. The teachers managed to avoid signing the limited term contract only after a big fight.

The conflict continued when the principal demanded the highest possible salary. This is how Tinatin Chitaishvili, one of the dismissed teachers and former member of the school board of trustees recalls the incident:

“The school had debts when the new principle was appointed. I as the member of the board of trustees felt some responsibility for our debts. The board of trustees has been functioning for a year. We did not know what to do at that time. The new principle wanted to know why there were so many debts. We explained that the school was not funded properly and consequently the old principle could not pay all the taxes. Maia Giorgadze wanted 600 GEL- the highest salary per month. We have only 573 pupils. We could not give her such big salary. We offered her 400 GEL until we covered the school debts and promised that we would increase her salary after this. She refused our offer and said, “I passed the exam to have a high salary them”. I reminded her that we were talking about the children’s money. To make a long story short, the conflict was over a lack of money for a higher salary.”

The teachers say that the principle then implemented changes brought harm to the school. She united classes and placed 35 children in upper level classes, which naturally caused disagreement. Consequently the level of the provided education was reduced accordingly.

Rusudan Machavariani was among those teachers who had supported Maia Giorgadze. However, the disagreement between them started when Rusudan Machavariani stood beside a teacher who had some disagreement with the principle. She does not know why Maia Giorgadze decided to specifically dismiss those 7 teachers.

“There were some teachers among 7 who had not said anything negative about the principle. That’s why nobody understood why she dismissed them, and just to the contrary the principal was in close relations with some of those teachers who had written an appeal against her. It is there teachers that we are not trying to defend in terms of having lost their jobs without reason.”

Not long before the dismissal the teachers went on strike. Tinatin Chitashvili talks why they went on strike:

“The principle demanded that her chamber be moved from the ground floor to the first floor. The principle was alleging that her room was very cold. Later it was settled that she would move to the teacher’s-room and the second grade would move into her room. Everything ended with the loss of the keys to the teacher’s room. We were unable to open the classroom doors as all the keys were kept in the teacher’s room, the bell rung. We could not find the keys. The children were noisy and we could not take them into the classrooms. We could not tolerate this mess and went on strike. All teachers protested against the complete disorder. However, for some vague reason the principle considered that I was the only ring leader and had organized the strike.

On May 15, 2008 after one month from the strike, Ms. Maia invited me to her chamber and asked me to serve as her mediator with the teachers. We shook hands but on the other day she officially reprimanded me the very next day…”

Maia Leparteliani, the lawyer of the Educators and Scientists Free Trade Union elucidates that if a principle reprimands a teacher he/she must indicate the reason in the letter of reproof. In this case the principle did not indicate why she reprimanded the teacher.

“If it could be proved that Ms. Tina arranged the strike illegally, premeditatedly interfered in the teaching process and so forth and so on – and under Georgian Law on General Education obliges the principle to prove his/her pretensions in written form and to grant the teacher the opportunity to express his/her perspective about the alleged violation.”

The trade union interfered with the situation when it was tensed already.

“We tried to regulate the situation so that the children’s interests were not infringed and the process of teaching was not wrecked. We thought that both sides agreed on terminating this endless conflict. However, we were incorrect in our assumptions. When we thought that the situation was under control the principle had sent a letter of reproof for a teacher to have to leave the school and go straight home.”

Maia Liparteliani considers that the problem roots not only from one concrete principle but also from the position of the Ministry of Education and the Labor Code which entitles an employer to dismiss an employee without naming any actual reason.

“The orders on dismissal were provided for all 7 teachers exactly in the same method. The employer [the principle of Public School # 149] indicated that she dismissed the employees based on the Section D of the Article 37 of the Labor Code of Georgia in all 7 cases. This section says that the labor relationship shall terminate when the contract is disarranged and without having to provide a reason. When these people went to the Ministry of Education I was there and saw myself emergency cars coming to the Ministry as these people fell ill. It is inadmissible that an employer treats an employee in such a manner. However, representatives of the Ministry of Education promised the dismissed teachers that they would study their cases thoroughly and this would be done in a fair way. The teachers’ meeting with Ministry representatives was attended by the Deputy Minister of Education as well. The Ministry promised that they would declare the principle’s orders on the teachers’ dismissal illegal and the teachers would be returned to their positions. However, decision is completely legal under the labor law. According to the Georgian legislation a Minister of Education has the right to invalidate a principle’s decision if the Minister considers that the principle made an illegal decision. The representatives of the Ministry knew about this principle [Maia Giorgadze] before. They had received many complains about her. However, everything ended up in a different way. The Ministry had been studying the case until July 21 and an order on July 21 which is signed by the Minister of Education. It was indicated in the order that the principle had some irregularities. However, for some vague reason the Ministry did not annul the principle’s order and return the teachers to their positions. A lawyer of the Ministry told us in a private conversation that the Ministry did not want to set a precedent when a Minister annulled the principle’s decision. I do not know whether the lawyer said this intentionally or it was reached by chance.”

Maia Liparteliani states that the Minister of Education is responsible for such situation because the Ministry wrote the Law on General Education. The Ministry should have put some methods in the law with which it would control such examples of school principals. 

“If the Ministry has found itself in the blind alley due to the legislation it must not have an impact on teachers. In order to show this people [7 dismissed teachers] that someone takes care of them [especially when the Ministry confirmed in an official document that they were dismissed illegally], the Ministry should have at least annulled the principal’s order and then decide as to the future employment of the responsible principal as whether she will stay in her position or not.”

The position of the Ministry acquires more importance when the dismissed teachers are supported by the teachers who remained at school. If they see that the Ministry does not support them they will be unable to do anything. Their every effort will be vain if the Ministry closes eyes on the activities of the principals, and especially if these activities are clearly illegal.

The dismissed teachers say that the principle calls every teacher that supports them and threatens them with dismissal.

We wanted to show the position of the principle in this article. Unfortunately, Maia Giorgadze refused to give any comments on the telephone and canceled the interview for several days. She did not explain why the teachers were dismissed. She said, “I had been observing their work the year and concluded that they did not work according to the required standard. It was because of their manner of working that I dismissed them.” However, Maia Giorgadze could not name at least one example when the teachers neglected their work requirements. Ms. Maia advised us not to publicize the information on the basis that it was not checked. She said if we published this article she would made us answerable for the information we have imparted. Though Ms. Maia declined to comment on the problem we are content to take an interview from her any time.  

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