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Workers Situation under the Quarantine 

“SAS Group” a large retail sales chain, refuses to pay its workers that have forcibly gone idle. SAS calls employees and compells them to write requests for dismissal from work or unpaid vacation against their will, otherwise they will be laid off. This was written by Hasmik Hambardzumyan, a journalist, on her Facebook profile. 

The Labor Code clearly defines the right of employees to receive at least 2/3 of their monthly salary and not less than the hourly mandatory minimum wage if an employee is turned idle due to circumstances not related to the them. Employers are obliged to offer requalification of these employees and maintain their jobs, by paying the above mentioned rates.

Only foreign private companies follow the requirement of the Labor Code to pay 2/3 of the wages. Large or small, most enterprises will not be paying their workers.

Alarming calls are heard about the cut and trim enterprise belonging to Samvel Aleksanyan. On March 18, for the first time, alcogels were placed near the sinks in the large enterprise, masks were distributed to the workers, but they wear the same mask for days without replacement coming. 

Workers at Samvel Aleksanyan’s cut and trim enterprise, mostly elderly women, work overtime, often 18-20 hours. On March 18, they worked from 9 am to 3 am the next morning. Men received higher overtime payments, than women employees.

The state of exception declared in Armenia forbids worker strikes or any actions of protests, thus bestowing “limitless” rights to businesses. In reality, workers in Armenia have for decades worked under a “state of exception”, where any attempt to protect worker rights was faced with the risk of losing the job. A memorable exception is the strike of women workers at Gyumri’s “SasTex”, another cut and trim enterprise, when women went on a strike and demanded solutions to their grievances. Not surprisingly, they were laid off.

The vulnerability of workers is even more accentuated in the time of the quarantine. The calls for self-isolation have resulted in a fragment of the workforce having the opportunity to work from home, with the service sector workers left almost entirely jobless.

It is unclear the extent to which employers can take decisions affec

The most vulnerable are the unregistered workers paid on a daily basis. This is the majority of the workforce in the service sector; restaurants, bars, shops, home workers, including baby sitters, daily laborers. These people will definitely be left without any wages and it is not clear where they will find money from to pay for rent and utilities.

Why is the responsibility for being an unregistered worker laid on workers themselves, and not their employers who simply evade taxes?

Epress.am asked questions to the Ministry of Labor and Social Issues and the Labor and Health Inspectorate. The Ministry responded that they are aware of the problem, by law 2/3 of the wages need to be paid to workers if the employers declare the enterprise goes idle. “This, unfortunately is not related to the unregistered workers. The Ministry has urgently made changes to the Labor Code and will soon provide more details.”

The Labor and Health Inspectorate asked us to submit a written request, which they told us to forward to the office of “state of emergency”, which we did, and this was later forwarded to the Ministry of Justice from which we have not yet heard․

The Ombudsman’s office released a strong warning to employers on March 21. The statement warned that employers must refrain from any action that may violate the right of workers to safe, healthy and dignified work as is prescribed by the Constitution of Armenia. Many of the complaints of workers threatened to be laid off if they did not show up to work and being forced to write requests for unpaid leave reached the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman reminds businesses that: 

  • employers are obliged to prioritize creation of safe and non-damaging working conditions for their workers by giving them an opportunity to work from home and keeping their wages. This is particularly relevant in the case of workers with certain health conditions and aged above 60.
  • Unpaid leaves are provided only at the wish of the worker.
  • Idle time not caused by the workers is paid in the amount set out by law.
  • Employers are obliged to offer other jobs to workers that meet their qualification and skills.
  • Workers cannot be forced to perform other jobs with a different professional qualification at lower wages, unless they agree to.
  • Workers are not obliged to pay wages only in the event force majeure is declared in the country in accordance to law which causes the enterprises go idle. 

In this situation, the government declared of an emergency aid package in the amount of 150 billion AMD, of which 25 billion will be an interest-free credit to employers to pay wages and taxes, and 30 billion AMD as a “social assistance” (it is not clear what this social assistance means).

The fairness and effectivity of this aid package is not clearly presented.