Friday, July 15, 2005

Worker Rights in Armenia

Hetq Online has published an article illustrating how the concept of worker rights in Armenia do not exist. Of course, many would argue that any form of rights under the law and the constitution are violated on an almost daily basis by the government and employers together. In this story, however, the culprits were the Indian owners of a gold mine and the issue is actually more than just worker's rights. It's actually about the lack of the rule of law in general.

According to Sarah Petrosian, the author of the piece, the Chairman of the Lernagorts Union of the Sotk mine employees went to work and was denied access to the premises. Armen Sahakyan had been absent because of a strike called by workers at the mine and along with 23 others, had been fired as a result. However, according to the law, as Chairman of the Union, he should still have been allowed to enter his former workplace.
However, Article 17 of the Armenian Law on Unions states this provision: “Representatives of leaderships of unions have a right under Armenian law to visit the premises where the members of their unions are employed, for the purposes of observing their working conditions, as provided under the law.” Therefore, Sahakyan contends, even though his employment had been terminated, as a union chairman he was still entitled to enter the premises. Besides, he adds, the letter was not addressed properly, mentioned no formal orders, and was not provided with a proper number, as required by law.
The strike was called in May after workers demanded that their contracts be brought into conformity with Armenian legislation. Their second demand was that a joint commission of workers and management be formed to discuss employment-related matters such as personal safety in a high-risk working environment. The demands were submitted two months before the strike was called. In response, the Indian company terminated contracts with 463 employees and hired another 100 from nearby villages. The former workers were then requested to submit new job applications at two thirds their former salaries.
They fired workers who were receiving salaries of $200 USD, and (re)hired employees who now receive $50 USD.” The present workers say, “On average, they are paying from $100 to $110 per month for drudgery -- just enough for us not to starve so we can continue serving them.”

According to Yevgeni Kojemyakin, Head of the Armenian Union of Miners, Metallurgists and Jewelers, people are not familiar with the laws, and they are simply forced to sign employment contracts which are not in compliance with the Labor Code, and the Law on Compensation, both of which govern this situation.
“The work they do is considered of a high-risk nature. No more than 24 days per month work is allowed, while the workers do 190 hours per month. They work two shifts at Sotk, 12 hours per shift, while the maximum allowed working day is 8 hours. Overtime work is not being compensated, while the law stipulates that overtime work must be compensated at a higher wage rate.”


Over the course of 2004, the Armenian Ombudsman received one hundred thirty claims in cases of employment termination; non- payment or delayed payment for work; uncompensated on –the-job injuries; and professional casualties. The majority of the claims came from the private sector. The Ombudsman’s Report says of this situation, “An analysis of the current situation in labor relations testifies to the en mass violations of employee rights in Armenia, mostly in the private sector. A lack of control in the implementation of labor laws by the relevant Government bodies worsens the situation.”
After official complaints lodged by the Human Rights Ombudsperson with the government, a report is due to be released soon. Meanwhile, the Human Rights Ombudsperson is an attack on her office by the President himself.

The full article can be read online here.

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