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Ministry of Labor Moves to Protect Worker Rights During State of Exception 

As the state of exception (emergency) declared since March 14, 2020 has resulted in issues for workers, a need has emerged to address gaps in the current labor regulations. The Ministry of Labor and Social Issues has drafted a bill of amendments to the Labor Code and has urgently circulated it. While the draft has not reached the Parliament yet, the Ministry issued a press release where it described key amendments proposed to the Labor Code.

The draft bill proposes the following amendments. 

 – If distance work is possible, then employees cannot be considered idle, their wages must be maintained fully. 

 – Distance work and changes to labor and rest time should not be considered a significant change to the labor contract. Such flexibility will allow the employers to skip their obligation to preliminarily notify of contract changes. 

 – In all those cases when employers in the private sector are not able to continue their business operation due to a state of emergency, including by organizing work at distance, the employer shall pay its employees an amount not less than the minimum hourly wages set out by law. The wages of state and community employees, as well as workers of the Central Bank shall be maintained fully. 

 – In all those cases when the employee has unused vacation time, and operations cannot continue during the state of emergency, the employer shall be mandated to provide this unused vacation if the worker requests it. 

 – In all those cases when an employee was objectively not able to attend work or was late or worked part-time due to the state of emergency, employers are forbidden to sever the job contract unilaterally or to penalize the employee. In these cases, wages must be maintained in an amount proportionate to the time the employee spent working.  

  • In all those cases, when educational institutions (including pre-school day cares) shift educational holidays or put students on sabbaticals, employers have no right to penalize workers or sever their contracts if they were late for work or worked part time due to child care. Wages, in this situation, must be paid fully. 

 – During the state of emergency, overtime in two consecutive days can reach 8 hours, instead of 4 hours presently. 

 – Transitional provisions will also provide that the new regulations apply to the time starting from March 16, 2020, when a state of exception was declared in Armenia. 

Business-oriented MPs have already complained of the requirements to pay workers during the state of exception. Gagik Tsarukyan of the Prosperous Armenia party, also a known businessman, complained on the March 23 parliamentary session that “the state should pay idle workers’ wages, because it is the state that declared the state of exception, not me, and should behave like the father of the nation.”  

In a distance press-briefing organized by “Article 3 Club”, Heriqnaz Tigranyan of “My Step” coalition and deputy chairwoman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Social and Health Issues stated that complaints that have so far been voiced showed the workers are mostly unprotected in the times of state of exception. Therefore regulatory changes need to strengthen their protection, namely, that workers need to receive at least minimum wages if they go idle, distance work should be recognize as fully paid work, as is drafted by the government.

Chairwoman of the same committee, Mane Tandilyan of “Bright Armenia” Party, maintains that the state of exception should be recognized a force majeure, echoing Gagik Tsarukyan, and that businesses cannot be forced to pay during a force majeure, as they are already economically hit. Therefore the state should take over that burden, says Tandilyan. 

The draft amendments have not yet been circulated in the Parliament.