“They Paid Me 1,000 AMD for 12 Hours of Work”: Syrian Workers’ Rights Violated in Armenia

Summary

Republic of Armenia (RA) has been plagued by widespread labor rights violations as a result of decades of high unemployment rate, poor economic conditions, unproductive labor unions, legislative gaps, ineffective labor inspectorates and a lack of rule of law.

Approximately 28% of local workers work on holidays and weekends from which 62.9% do not receive additional pay and 26.5% of workers work more than 8 hours per day (up to 12 hours per day).[1] In 2016, the gender pay gap across different industries was approximately 26% while in 2017 the gap rose to more than 32%.[2] 

Due to legislative gaps, inadequate inspection and lack of enforcement, the entire population of the Republic of Armenia is susceptible to labor rights abuses, but migrant workers and refugees (de facto and de jure), such as Syrians in Armenia, are more vulnerable.  

“…[i]n the seven years that Syrians have been coming to Armenia, they have not lodged a single [labor rights violation] complaint to the government…,” said Mr. Ashot Harutyunyan, Head of the Department for Health Care and Security of Employees at the Republic of Armenia’s Health and Labor Inspectorate.[3]

Syrians in Armenia

According to RA’s State Migration Services, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Armenia, and the Former Ministry of Diaspora, since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011, more than 22,000 Syrian refugees have arrived to Armenia.[4] Of those, 15,000 continue to reside in Armenia. Due to Armenia’s challenging economic environment, the majority of the 8,000-10,000 Syrian refugees that left Armenia migrated to Europe, Canada, and the Arab Gulf States in search of better economic opportunities, while a very small number repatriated (returned to Syria).

According to RA’s Former Ministry of Diaspora’s Draft Integration Strategy, UNHCR, and numerous other organizations and researchers, housing is the leading challenge currently facing Syrian refugees in Armenia.[5]

An Aleppo-NGO survey based study conducted (between June and July 2018) with 129 Syrian households in Yerevan revealed that only 10% of Syrian households own their own dwelling in Armenia, while an additional 10% live with relatives, friends, or temporary (free of charge) dwellings provided by government agencies and local and international non-governmental organizations. As such, more than 80% of Syrian households were renting apartments and houses in Armenia in 2018.  

On the other hand, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, “Armenia experienced the most radical housing privatization of all Europe and Central Asia countries…dwellings were transformed to private property almost free of charge.”[6] The vast majority of families benefited from this process, and Armenia became a “super home-ownership state.”

This legacy is a critical part of Armenia’s economic landscape today—somewhere between 90% and 96% of local families own their own house or apartment (according to a study conducted by Habitat for Humanity in 2011),[7] providing a basic level of financial security even in the face of low wages or unemployment.

Homeownership, according to a variety of global indexes, is not just one issue among many, but rather the key factor that can determine a family’s general well-being and security.[8] For the poorest, homeownership serves as “a crucial foundation for [finding] a path out of poverty.” Rather than draining income on rent, low-income homeowners gradually build equity in their properties, and as a result, “the median net wealth of low-income homeowners is dramatically higher than the median net wealth of low-income renters.”[9]

Taking into account that homeownership gives otherwise cash-strapped local Armenians a precious source of “start-up capital, guarantees for new mortgages, or collateral for business loans,” which are means that the majority of Syrian refugees do not have, this labor rights research focused on the violations against Syrian workers in Armenia, which not only constitute a human right violation but directly hinder the ability of Syrians to access the banking system of Armenia and acquire housing loans and mortgages.

Legal Status of Syrians in Armenia

According to the Republic of Armenia’s dual citizenship law (February 2007), diaspora Armenians are eligible to obtain Armenian citizenship or short- and long-term residency cards (2-10 years) if they can prove their Armenian lineage.[10]

More than 99% of Syrian refugees in Armenia are ethnically Armenian. Of those, at least 92% have either become citizens or legal residents of Armenia—less than 680 Syrians (4.5% of the total population) have registered as refugees, according to UNHCR (December 31, 2017 statistics).

While the legal status of Syrian refugees in Armenia may appear more favorable than those in Europe, Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon, however, obtaining citizenship or permanent residency status has resulted in (a) foregoing internationally recognized refugee status, (b) foregoing access to state sponsored social housing only available for asylum seekers/refugees in Armenia, (c) accepting an obligation to serve in the Armenian army for men of conscription age, and (d) provision of less international aid (per capita) compared to refugees in Syria’s neighboring countries like Jordan and Lebanon.[11]

Nevertheless, as citizens or permanent residents of Armenia, Syrian refugees are legally eligible to purchase real estate in Armenia, if they qualify to obtain mortgages and loans from banks, crediting institutions, and/or foundations.

Economic Situation of Syrians in Armenia

According to EDRC’s research, which was primarily focused on surveys and interviews with middle class entrepreneurs, 2% of the families are in extreme poverty, 24% are poor, and 39% are below average—thus, the welfare of 65% of the families is below average, 33% is average, and the welfare of only 1% is above average.

When comparing their standard of living in Syria and in Armenia, between 2013 and 2016, only 4% of EDRC’s survey participants said there was positive change. The vast majority, 83%, think their standard of living has gone down in Armenia, while 13% thought there was no substantial difference between life in Syrian and life in Armenia.[12]

Labor Rights (Human Rights) Situation of Syrians in Armenia

Based on years of needs assessments and monitoring, Aleppo-NGO concluded that the human rights of Syrian refugees (de facto) in Armenia are constantly violated, especially Articles 22-25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as many Syrians lack social security benefits; just and favorable conditions of work; the right to rest and leisure; and most importantly, housing.[13]

The “‘They Paid Me 1,000 AMD for 12 Hours of Work: Syrian Workers’ Rights Violated in Armenia” report presents the findings of a survey, conducted between June and August 2019, of 166 Syrians who work in Yerevan. The primary goal of the research was to obtain accurate and representative data on the prevalence of workplace violations against Syrians in Armenia. As such, to ensure the representative nature of our findings, a systematic sampling method was used to identify survey participants from all segments of the Syrian population in Armenia instead of the commonly used and less reliable snowball sampling method, which has been widely used in previous surveys and needs assessments focusing on the situation of Syrians in Armenia.   

Taking into account the positive attitudes of the local population towards the migration of Syrians (Syrian-Armenians) to RA[14]  and acknowledging the incredible contributions of the government of Armenia[15] to facilitate the migration of Syrian-Armenians to the country, the research did not set out to identify discrimination by local employers against Syrian workers, but to determine the levels and nature of labor rights violations, which effect the entire population of the country, but have a greater negative impact on Syrians (Syrian-Armenians) in Armenia. The research confirmed that more than 87% of Syrian workers (SWs) in Armenia fall victim to labor rights violations.

While aggregating the collected data to determine the level of labor rights violations against Syrian workers, the researchers and statistical analysts did not factor in labor rights violations stemming from administrative shortcomings which constitute a violation (according to RA’s labor code) but do not negatively impact the quality of life of Syrians in Armenia. As such, the 87% labor rights violation rate only takes into account the following criteria:

  • Unregistered Employment;
  • Absence of Employment or Service Provision Contracts;
  • Unpaid Probation (trial) Period Upon Hiring;
  • More than 12 hours of work per day;
  • No break time during an 8-hour work day;
  • No days off during the week;
  • No annual vacation and no paid annual vacation for full-time employees.

Recommendations

To the Parliament of the Republic of Armenia:

  • Create an independent inspections entity to monitor compliance with all aspects of labor legislation with the ability to conduct inspections (including surprise inspections), in order to supervise compliance with work conditions, uphold labor rights, ensure compliance with child labor law regulations, and enforce compliance and implement punitive measures on employers when they violate these provisions;
  • Limit the consecutive number of temporary or fixed term contracts an employer can make with the same employee in order to reduce violations of labor rights and ensure stability in employment;
  • Amend Article 84 of the RA Labor Code, making it mandatory to include an exhaustive list of job functions on an employment contract in order to further minimize the risk of exploitation and lack of redress by the employee;
  • Eliminate legal loopholes eliminating mandatory rest time and leave for workers on temporary and fixed term contracts as well as on probationary periods and enact a law based on the pro rata temporis principle;
  • Introduce legislation mandating the release of information specified in EU Directive 92/56/EEC to a competent public authority and employee representatives prior to collective redundancies;
  • Necessitate consultations between employee representatives and employers, for the purpose of finding mutually beneficial solutions to avoid redundancies, reducing the number of dismissals, and/or mitigating the socioeconomic consequences;
  • Expand the legal powers of the competent public authority for carrying out proper control and supervision in the area of collective redundancies (collective dismissal of a large number of employees within a company);
  • Lift the two-month statute of limitations for bringing labor cases to court;
  • Revise the law to allow trade unions to provide written consent on disciplinary sanctions against or discharge of trade union member employee in case of individual labor disputes and to represent collective and individual labor disputes in court without a power of attorney.
  • Reduce regulations for strikes by decreasing the proportion of votes needed to carry out a legal strike from 2/3 to at least 50% of employees and allowing non-trade unions to organize strikes;
  • Define punitive measures for employers that refuse to respond to trade union petitions or engage in negotiations;
  • Empower an independent body to protect the health and safety of workers through surprise inspections, assessments, and specific preventive measures as defined by law. Democratize the process by mandating consultations between employees and/or employee representatives and employers on decisions affecting workers’ health and safety;
  • Define the responsibilities of the employer in terms of providing safe working conditions, providing information to their employees, raising awareness of potential dangers, and providing necessary training before an accident occurs or the employee demands it;
  • Add explicit protections to the Labor Code for those seeking work by adding anti-discrimination language in Article 3 to cover those seeking employment and those without formal contracts;
  • Stipulate preventive, punitive, or restorative legal provisions related to sexual harassment and define it within the labor code;
  • Empower an independent body to identify discrimination with regard to pay and treatment of employees and enforce compliance with existing legislation in order to more effectively close the gender pay gap and combat discrimination in the workplace;
  • Add a provision within existing legislation to prohibit discrimination against LGBT persons;
  • Define “forced labor” in the Labor Code in accordance with international treaties signed;
  • Legislate proportionate penalties for the failure to comply with labor legislation;
  • Introduce legislation on the procedure for determining the minimum wage, ensuring that employers and employees are equally represented in this process. Ensure that the minimum wage reflects “the needs of workers and their families, taking into account the general level of wages in the country, the cost of living, social security benefits, and the relative living standards of other social groups;”[16]
  • Introduce and adopt legislation to increase the minimum wage at least once a year and consider adopting a mathematical formula (review the formulas used in Brazil, Costa Rica, Malaysia, France, and the Netherlands) for the periodic adjustment which corresponds with Armenia’s economic growth, inflation rates, and unemployment rate;
  • Raise the social security and pension amount to effectively provide a living wage by legally defining the mechanism under which social security amounts are set;
  • Reinstate the unemployment benefits provided to unemployed persons in legislation.
  • Ensure that criminal justice authorities aggressively investigate, prosecute in good faith, and impose meaningful penalties on employers that violate the current and all future relevant provisions of the labor code of RA.

To the Government of the Republic of Armenia

  • Hire and train competent, effective inspectors to monitor compliance with Armenian law in the work place;
  • Provide a mandatory training schedule for civil servants employed by the labor inspection body;
  • Hire at least 75 trained inspectors according to the ILO’s technical recommendation to provide one inspector for every 20,000 workers in transition economies; 
  • Stipulate that inspectors must be civil servants and, therefore, must receive training at least once every three years;
  • Make information on inspections, violations, and penalties, as well as the budget of the Inspection Body, publicly available;
  • Ensure that other government agencies, including the State Taxation Committee, are also monitoring employers’ adherence to labor legislation so that each agency has a check on it, mitigating the possibility of corruption;
  • Develop a mechanism to coordinate efforts to combat child labor especially in the agriculture and service industries, where most children work;
  • Initiate social programs for children engaged in child labor in street work or in agriculture;
  • Include universal and local labor rights history in the school curriculum to increase awareness of the importance of labor rights protection amongst the population of RA.

To Trade Unions

  • Make financial expenditures public to improve accountability and increase motivation for existing trade unions to better spend annual revenues;
  • Submit proposals to the government on issues relevant to labor rights from the minimum wage to tax policy;
  • Include labor rights history and legislation into the curriculum and provide trainings at vocational centers and for civil servants on labor rights and the role of trade unions;
  • Ensure that the new inspection system has the resources to oversee collective negotiations;
  • Allow new trade unions to emerge that do not conform to the old system. This provides options for workers and healthy competition for an establishment union system that does not have a history of successfully advocating for workers’ rights.

To the Syrian Armenian Union

As the leading grassroots organization working on the economic integration of Syrians in Armenia, we recommend that the Syrian Armenia Union:

  • Take the lead on monitoring labor rights abuses, especially in the private sector, perpetrated by both local and Syrian employers against Syrian workers;
  • Consider the establishment of a labor unions or establish cooperation with existing labor unions to advocate for the rights of Syrian workers in Armenia.

Methodology

Aleppo-NGO’s researcher and consultant conducted research and legal analysis for this report between June and August 2019 and a data analyst carried out the data aggregations of the survey results. The researcher conducted phone interviews with 166 Syrians based in Yerevan. The survey participants (SPs) included 116 workers, 17 private entrepreneurs, and 33 unregistered private entrepreneurs who operate within Armenia’s shadow economy.

Telephone Survey Methodology

Confidence Level and Margin of Error

This labor rights research survey was conducted with a 95% confidence level and 50% response distribution and a margin of error of +/- 8%.

Credible representative surveys are generally conducted with a 95% confidence level—meaning that if the survey were repeated 100 times, the results would fall within the margin of error 95 times. In general, such surveys are also conducted with a 50% response distribution. This is a conservative assumption when unsure of how respondents will answer the survey’s questions.

In general, a +/- 4-8% margin of error is considered normal in a survey, depending on the types of questions being asked. For example, when polling likely voters during US Presidential Elections, a +/- 8% margin of error would not make sense because elections are almost always decided by a small margin. Likewise, when attempting to show small changes over time, (i.e., a 5% increase or decrease in support for an incumbent US President), a +/- 8% margin of error is not acceptable. However, a larger margin of error is more acceptable when the survey is attempting to provide an overview of a certain situation, such as labor rights violations against Syrian workers in Armenia, where very little previous knowledge exists.

Sampling

This labor rights research, survey, focused on the abuses against Syrian workers in Yerevan because:

  • In Armenia, Labor rights abuses are more common in rural areas, especially in the agriculture industry;
  • CRRC, funded by GIZ, conducted research and produced a needs assessment report (Mapping of Syrian Armenians in the Regions of Armenia and their Needs) in 2019, which concluded that only 177 households are residing in 8 regions (Ararat, Aragatsotn, Armavir, Gegharkunik, Kotayk, Lori, Shirak, Tavush) of Armenia. Moreover, the report covered a lot of the challenges faced by Syrian households living in rural areas of Armenia, thus there was no urgent need to duplicate the work of CRRC;
  • Aleppo-NGO’s 2018 survey had determined that more than 92% of all Syrians living in Armenia are based in Yerevan, therefore it was important to focus the research on the situation of the majority rather than the minority.

Due to the absence of a centralized database (at the disposal of the Armenian government and non-governmental organizations working with Syrians in Armenia) to monitor the situation, movement and trends of all 22,000 Syrians who have traveled to Armenia since 2011, this labor rights research relied on the beneficiary database of Aleppo-NGO. Aleppo-NGO’s database includes a total of 2,010 households (155 households living in the regions and 1,855 households based in Yerevan), approximately 6,500 individuals (more than 30% of all Syrians who traveled to Armenia since 2011).

For the purpose of this research, the survey focused on the 5,745 Syrians based in Yerevan who had registered with Aleppo-NGO as of June 1, 2019. To ensure that the research parameters (confidence level, margin of error, response distribution) were maintained and that the outcome was representative of the population in question, the researchers had to interview 166 Syrian workers.

X=__Y__
Z

                                                Y=the population size (5,745 Syrians registered at Aleppo- NGO)                          
Z=sample size (166 Syrians)

X= the sampling interval

Maintaining the consistency of sampling interval and using a controlled population ensured that the results of the survey were representative and the margin of error was at an adequate rate of +/- 8%. For example, this labor rights research concluded that the labor rights of 87% of Syrian workers were violated in Armenia. If we repeat the survey 100 times, the rate of violations may shift 8% below or above the 87% rate, i.e. the actual rate of labor rights violations against Syrians in Armenia is somewhere between 79% and 95%.

Consequently, to interview 166 Syrians who work in Yerevan, Aleppo-NGO’s researcher called 826 individuals:

Has Not Worked in Armenia 141 17%
Underage (has/does not work[ed]) 48 6%
Unreachable 386 47%
Refused to Participate in the Survey 46 6%
Diseased 6 1%
Individual Has Left Armenia 33 4%
Survey Participants 166 20%
  826 100%

Consequently, from the total eligible population of 212 individuals (people who refused to participate and survey participants), the response rate for this survey was 78%. Moreover, the remaining statistics gathered during the 826 phone calls was also valuable in gathering a general idea of the current demographics of Syrians, including in determining the Real Unemployment Rate amongst Syrians (46%) as well as the guesstimate of the percentage of out-migration of Syrians from Armenia (up to 51%).

Terminology of the Report

Since the primary reason for the migration of Syrians (primarily Syrian-Armenians) to Armenia is the ongoing conflict in Syria, Syrians (including Syrian-Armenians) are de facto refugees. Thus, irrespective of their actual legal status (RA citizen, RA resident, Refugee Travel Document Holder, Asylum Seeker, or Illegal Immigrant), Aleppo-NGO maintains that Syrians (including Syrian-Armenians) in Armenia are refugees rather than “repatriates”.

More importantly, taking into account that there is a small number of Syrians who are not ethnically Armenian, often the spouses of Syrian-Armenians, this report uses the terms “Syrian Refugee” and “Syrian Workers” rather than “Syrian-Armenians” even though the vast majority of Syrians in Armenia are not de jure refugees and are ethnically Armenian.

Interviews

In order to make the study as comprehensive as possible, 2 round-table discussions were organized with current and former Syrian workers during the stage of developing the questionnaire. Moreover, between June and August 2019, interviews were conducted with experts from local and international organization representatives in Yerevan.

This joint approach allowed the researcher, consultant, and data analyst to develop a more comprehensive understanding of Armenia’s labor market, providing both the overall analysis of the Labor Code of Armenia and the statistical data on Syrian Workers’ labor rights violations.

The survey gathered information on Syrian’s economic activity, living conditions, employment, type of employment, working conditions, sectors of activity and occupation, interactions between the employee and employer, labor rights violations and knowledge about Labor Code of RA. This research provides up-to-date statistical information on Syrian’s involvement in the labor market of Armenia, as well as clarifies the situation of their economic activity and labor rights violations.

Interviews were primarily conducted in Armenian by an Eastern Armenian-speaking researcher; some were conducted in Western Armenian, English and Arabic in case of a misunderstanding of questions. Because of the threat of losing the employment for those who spoke with us, many interviewees asked that we use pseudonyms. Interviewees received no compensation and were fully informed of the purpose of the interview and on how Aleppo-NGO would use the information they provided.

During the preparatory stage of the research, a set of key tools has been elaborated using the definition and approaches of the ILO as well as other relevant sources.[17]

Analysis of Labor Rights Situation in Armenia

While the RA has made strides to adapt national labor legislation to EU laws and international treaties protecting labor rights, there are still gaps in the legal framework which allow employers to exploit workers, Syrians and Armenians alike. However, those starting their lives from scratch will undoubtedly be more vulnerable to employer exploitation. As the Head of Department for the Health Care and Security of Employees said, “In the seven years that Syrians have been coming to Armenia, they have not lodged a single complaint to the government.”[18] Closing the gaps in the legal framework will further protect workers and mitigate emigration of Syrians (primarily Syrian-Armenians) and Armenian workers.

Background on Labor Legislation

The legislation relating to labor rights of the Republic of Armenian (RA) is extensive. The main pieces of labor legislation include the 2004 Labor Code (LC) and its subsequent amendments, the Constitution[19], RA Decrees which have power of the law and contain norms of the labor law, orders and instructions of the President, and the decrees of the Prime Minister. The legislation which supplements the LC, includes: The Civil Code (1998), The Trade Unions Act (2000), The Civil Service Act (2001), The Employment Wages Act (2001), The Act on Public Associations (2001), The Act on Remuneration of Civil Servants (2002), and The Minimum Wage Act (2004). International treaties that have been ratified are a constituent part of the RA legal system. Notably, “In case of conflict between the norms of international treaties ratified by the Republic of Armenia and those of laws, the norms of international treaties shall apply.”[20] International treaties that contradict the Constitution may be ratified after making the appropriate amendment to the Constitution.[21] The entirety of these documents generally provides for strong protections for workers. However, as will be discussed, there are still gaps in the legislation and in its implementation and enforcement.

The Constitution of Armenia (CAR) as the supreme law of the land guarantees the right to freedom of association with others, including:[22]

  • the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of labor interests;[23]
  • the right to free choice of employment;
  • protection in the event of unjustified dismissal;
  • the right to paid parental and pregnancy leave;
  • the prohibition of forced labor and child labor;[24]
  • the right to working conditions that are in compliance with safety and hygiene requirements; [25] and
  • the right to strike for the protection of their [workers] economic, social and labor interests.[26]

Importantly, Article 48(2) of the CAR emphasizes that it is the State’s responsibility in the economic, social and cultural spheres to, first and foremost, contribute to employment and the improvement of working conditions for the population. These provisions are in line with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.[27]

In the past decade, the RA has aimed to further align its labor laws with European Union standards. Armenia has ratified several international treaties including the European Social Charter, ILO Conventions[28], the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the International Economic, Social and Cultural Covenant of the UN. The RA has made strides to meet the commitments of these ratified instruments through additional pieces of legislation including the Law on Employers’ Organizations (2007), the Law on Trade Unions (2000), the Law on Labor Inspection (2005) and the Law on Employment of the Population and Social Protection in Case of Unemployment (2005). In addition, the RA ratified the Law NO. HO-57-N of 20 May 2013 on Guaranteeing Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women and Men, which prohibits implicit and explicit gender-based discrimination in all spheres of public life. In March 2017, the RA and EU signed the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) designed to bring Armenian law closer to European legislation on certain sectors, including labor rights.[29] The implementation of CEPA began on June 1, 2018 (see text box below for further information on the agreement).

However, 15 years since its ratification, the 2004 Labor Code and its accompanying amendments continues to be the central living document which legislates and protects individual and collective labor relations in Armenia. Protection afforded to employees are broad in scope, as is the definition of who is protected under the law. Article 2.1 states that the objective of labor legislation is to “define the state guarantees for employment rights and freedoms of natural persons, i.e. citizens of the Republic of Armenia, foreign nationals and stateless persons (hereinafter referred to as ‘the citizens’)”. Article 3(3) of the LC states one of the main principles of the labor legislation is the “legal equality of parties to employment relations irrespective of their gender, race, national origin, language, origin, nationality, social status, religion, marital status, age, beliefs or views, affiliation to parties, trade unions or non-governmental organizations, other circumstances not associated with the professional skills of an employee”. These articles taken together can mean that this LC applies to all Syrian refugees in Armenia regardless of their citizenship status.

Therefore, the rights outlined in the LC are prescribed to apply to all employees and employers.[30] The Labor Code protects all workers in the RA, including employees, civil officers and public officers. RA legislation also protects the rights of actual workers, hired without a written contract, if they can prove the employment relationship with the employer.[31] The only exception stipulated is that, “This Code does not regulate employment relations involving citizens serving their sentence in correctional institutions, except for the relations with respect to working time and rest-time regulations, remuneration for work, safety and health of employees”.[32]

While the law provides expansive protections for employees and workers in the RA, there are parts of the LC which employers have been able exploit to the detriment of employees, Armenians and Syrian included. For example, under the CAR, freedom of associations may be restricted by “purpose of state security, protecting public order, health and morals or the basic rights and freedoms of others”[33]. In addition, Article 58 adds a caveat to the right to strike, stating that, “The right to strike may be restricted only by law, for the purpose of protecting public interests or the basic rights and freedoms of others.”[34] The following sections will further outline the gaps in the existing legislation and the administrative issues, which impede the enforcement of labor rights. 

The Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement In the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement, the RA committed to adapting its legislation to labor rights provisions adopted by EU institutions. Relevant articles to labor rights include: ARTICLE 84: The Parties shall strengthen their dialogue and cooperation on promoting the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Decent Work Agenda, employment policy, health and safety at work, social dialogue, social protection, social inclusion, gender equality and anti-discrimination, and thereby contribute to the promotion of more and better jobs, poverty reduction, enhanced social cohesion, sustainable development and improved quality of life   ARTICLE 273: Recognising the right of each Party to determine its sustainable development policies and priorities, to establish its own levels of domestic environmental and labour protection, and to adopt or modify accordingly its relevant laws and policies, in a manner consistent with its commitment to the internationally recognised standards and agreements referred to in Articles 274 and 275, each Party shall strive to ensure that its laws and policies provide for and encourage high levels of environmental and labour protection and shall strive to continue to improve those laws and policies and their underlying levels of protection.   ARTICLE 274 International labour standards and agreements: In accordance with their obligations as members of the ILO and the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and its Follow-up of 1998, the Parties commit to respect, promote and realise in their laws and practices and in their whole territory the internationally recognised core labour standards, as embodied in the fundamental ILO conventions and the protocols to those conventions, and in particular: (a) the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining; (b) the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour; (c) the effective abolition of child labour; and (d) the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.   ARTICLE 280 The Parties recognise that it is inappropriate to encourage trade or investment by lowering the levels of protection afforded in domestic environmental or labour laws.   ARTICLE 284 (h): trade-related aspects of the ILO Decent Work Agenda, including on the interlinkages between trade and full and productive employment, labour-market adjustment, core labour standards, effective remedy systems (including labour inspectorates) for upholding labour rights, labour statistics, human-resource development and lifelong learning, social protection and social inclusion, social dialogue and gender equality.

Specifically, the following areas of the law contain gaps which have or can negatively impact labor rights:

  • Mandate of the state labor inspection system;
  • Fixed-term contracts, temporary contracts, and probationary periods;
  • Collective redundancies;
  • Trade unions and strikes;
  • Health and safety;
  • Discrimination and sexual harassment;
  • Child labor;
  • Minimum wage, social security, and unemployment benefits.

While these gaps affect both Armenians and Syrians, it is widely acknowledged that newcomers to any country will be less aware of their rights, more vulnerable to exploitation, and more susceptible to discrimination. Surveys with Syrians in the RA will identify which gaps concern Syrian workers.

State Labor Inspection

According to the Revised European Social Charter, which the RA has ratified, the state must enact a system of labor inspection to ensure adherence to the labor code. Under the CEPA, the government has also committed to enforcing labor rights through a variety of means, including through labor inspectorates.[35] On December 17, 2004, the RA also ratified the ILO Convention No. 81 concerning Labour Inspection in Industry and Commerce, committing itself to developing and maintaining a system of labor inspection in industrial workplaces.[36] This labor inspectorate would enforce the law as it applies to the labor code in provisions relating to hours, wages, safety, health and welfare, child labor, and other issues related to workers’ protections. The same entity would be required to notify the competent authorities in the event of any violations.[37]

The RA had an inspection body to monitor compliance with labor legislation seven years ago but their mandate has been weakened by subsequent laws and amendments ever since. According to the 2012 report of the RA State Labor Inspectorate, the Inspectorate received 543 complaints, of which 460 were resolved (84.7%). The Inspectorate carried out 395 inspections, which detected 144,412,019 AMD worth of unpaid salaries.[38]

Armenia’s Labor Inspectorate was abolished in 2013, and responsibility for conducting labor inspections was transferred to the new State Health Inspectorate, created the same year. Since the 2014 repeal of Article 34 of the Labor Code[39], which previously established the government’s authority to conduct routine labor inspections, the RA has lacked a functioning labor inspection mechanism to monitor, inspect, and enforce labor laws not explicitly related to health and safety.[40] In 2015, subsequent changes to legislation regulating the State Health Inspectorate made the entity unable to conduct labor inspections. In 2017, continued inspection reform led to the dissolution of the State Health Inspectorate and the creation of the Health Inspection Body, which was tasked with monitoring occupational safety and health standards for employees, along with monitoring a variety of public health standards.[41]

On March 23, 2018, the RA created the Health and Labor Inspection Agency, which does not operate under any Ministry, to implement government policy.[42] Endowing an entity with the independence necessary to uphold labor rights was a vital step to achieving international labor standards. However, the new agency is extremely limited in its mandate. The amended Article 262 stated that: “Control and supervision of workers’ safety and health is implemented by the state authorized bodies within the scope of their jurisdiction.”[43]

According to paragraph 11(10) of the charter of the new Health and Labor Inspection Agency, approved by Decree of the Prime Minister of the RA No. 755-L of June 11, 2018, the Agency oversees “the application of norms protecting employee health and ensuring safety in cases and according to the procedure established by law, which includes:

  1. Oversight of mandatory requirements defined by the legislation of the Republic of Armenia for protecting employee health and ensuring safety at the workplace, including the availability, maintenance and operation of equipment of collective and individual protection;
  2. Review and analysis of causes of accidents at work and occupational diseases in cases and according to the procedure established by law;
  3. Organize methodological support for employers and trade unions in ensuring work safety in the area of application of labor legislation and other legal acts i.e. provision of relevant information and advice;
  4. Carry out oversight over securing the guarantees provided by labor legislation for people below the age of 18, as well as pregnant or breast-feeding women and employees caring for children;
  5. Temporarily stop the activities in cases according to the procedure defined by the Labor Code until violations are corrected.[44]

The RA charged the inspectorate with monitoring the health and safety of employees but not the enforcement of other labor rights provisions. The Constitution of the UN’s World Health Organization defines “health” as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being.[45] However, the concepts of health and safety are ambiguous in RA labor legislation because of the lack of legal precedence further refining the definition.[46] In any case, while broadly speaking, working hours, resting periods and remuneration terms could be included in the health and safety of an employee, it is not an explicit mandate for the Inspection Agency. Article 3(1) of ILO Convention No. 81 specifically states that the functions of a state labor inspectorate should be:

  1. to secure the enforcement of the legal provisions relating to conditions of work and the protection of workers while engaged in their work, such as provisions relating to hours, wages, safety, health and welfare, the employment of children and young persons, and other connected matters, in so far as such provisions are enforceable by labour inspectors;
  2. to supply technical information and advice to employers and workers concerning the most effective means of complying with the legal provisions;
  3. to bring to the notice of the competent authority defects or abuses not specifically covered by existing legal provisions.[47]

Currently, only the Health Inspection Body and the State Taxation Committee monitors labor issues and both institutions have extremely limited mandates and are unable to conduct inspections. The Health Inspection Body received nine complaints in 2018.[48] Other complaints were “not in their jurisdiction” or the employee did not want to “submit a written complaint”.[49] In any case, as Heriknaz Tigranyan, Member of the National Assembly of Armenia and Committee Deputy Chair of the Standing Committee on Health Care and Social Affairs, said, people, “don’t make complaints to this office because they know they can’t do anything about it. They can’t even take them to court. Their 23 inspectors haven’t done anything for 2 years. For 5 years, they [the inspection body] haven’t done anything and people know that. That is why they don’t complain. In courts, labor right violations complaints have gone up because there is nowhere else to complain.”[50]

According to Article 62(1-2) of the CAR, “Everyone shall have the right to receive legal aid. In cases prescribed by law, legal aid shall be provided at the expense of state funds. 2. With the aim of ensuring legal aid, advocacy based on independence, self-government and equality of advocates shall be guaranteed.” Article 59(1) states that, “Everyone shall have the right to effective judicial protection of his rights and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution and the laws.”[51] According to labor lawyer Janna Simonyan, “If someone has a monthly salary of 80,000AMD, it is not likely that they will be able to afford legal counsel. Technically, they could apply for the court themselves.”[52] While the Chamber of Advocates has days in which they provide free legal consultation, they typically do not take these cases to court. Therefore, in practice, employees rarely bring their employers to court. Taking an employer to court is simply out of reach for most citizens.

Fixed-term Contracts, Temporary Contracts, and Probationary Periods

Stability in employment relationships not only contributes to increased quality of life[53] for employees, but it encourages the labor force to stay in the country. Article 3(8) of the RA Labor Code affirms that one of the “main principles of labor legislation” are “stability of labor relationships.”[54] However, both short term and fixed term contracts tend to increase instability in the labor force and degrade the implementation of labor rights legislation.

In order to limit their usage, LC Article 95(3) lists the conditions under which a fixed-term contract may be concluded with an employee. However, one of the allowances for a fixed term contract is for “those performing temporary works (for a time period of up to two months)”. This provision allows for wide-ranging use of the fixed-term contract and the short-term contract, which is essentially defined the same way.[55] Limiting the usage of fixed term contracts is important because fixed term and indefinite term contracts have different protections. For instance, under an indefinite term contract, an employer can only terminate employment on grounds provided for in law but simply let a fixed-term contract expire.[56] Therefore, employers may be tempted to use fixed-term contracts which is less regulated according to the law.

While it is positive that the RA Labor Code suggests that fixed term contracts should only be used in exceptional circumstances, this does not obviate the need for further defining the limitations to its uses given the wide-ranging reasons that a fixed-term contract could be used according to the LC. For example, since the LC does not limit the number of temporary or fixed-terms contracts that the employer can conclude with the same employee, the employee could potentially be kept in limbo for years through temporary contracts.

Because of the higher potential for abuse in fixed term contracts, the EU has directed the specific circumstances for their use. According to EU directive 1999/70/EC, the benchmark for prohibiting discrimination and preventing abuse with fixed-term contracts in EU law:

  1. To prevent abuse arising from the use of successive fixed-term employment contracts or relationships, Member States, after consultation with social partners in accordance with national law, collective agreements or practice, and/or the social partners, shall, where there are no equivalent legal measures to prevent abuse, introduce in a manner which takes account of the needs of specific sectors and/or categories of workers, one or more of the following measures:
    1. objective reasons justifying the renewal of such contracts or relationships;
    2. the maximum total duration of successive fixed-term employment contracts or relationships;
    3. the number of renewals of such contracts or relationships. [57]

The directive also stipulates that employees working under a fixed term contract shall not be treated in a less favorable manner than employees working under contracts of indefinite duration, unless these differences are justified on objective grounds. While the LC and the CAR broadly guarantee the rights of all workers, the legislation does not explicitly state that fixed term employees are to be treated equally or according to the pro rata temporis principle where appropriate as it does in Clause 4 of EU directive 1999/70/EC.[58] Additionally, while there is legal recourse for unjustified dismissal for workers with indefinite contracts, the law does not specify the grounds on which dismissing a fixed term employee is prohibited.

The period of resting days or paid vacation is also essentially subject to the employer’s will under legislation relating to fixed and short-term contracts as well as probationary periods. Article 101(2) of the LC states that, “Employees having concluded a temporary employment contract may be engaged in work on rest days and non-working days, i.e. holidays and commemoration days. The work performed on non-working days — holidays and commemoration days — shall be remunerated in at least double amount of hourly (daily) pay rate or task rate.”[59] Article 101(3) of the Labor Code stating, “Employees having signed a temporary employment contract are entitled to paid vacation or remuneration, which is calculated for two days for each month in case the contract is annulled,” was repealed by HO-117-N of 24 June 2010.[60] Additionally, Article 164(2) states that, “One can take a vacation leave after six months of uninterrupted work.”[61] These Articles taken together mean that employees under a temporary contract can be obliged to work on holidays and are not entitled to paid vacation. Without regulations on the number of temporary or fixed term contracts signed, the employee may not be entitled to rest days or paid vacation for long periods of time with the same employer.

There are similar concerns related to probationary periods. Articles 91 to 93 of the LC regulate the probation period. During the probation, all provisions of labor legislation apply to the worker concerned. In principle, the duration of the probation period should not exceed three months, although, in certain cases, Armenian legislation may establish a probation period of up to six months. During the probation period, the employer or employee may terminate the contract with a three-day written notice. According to author interviews, in reality, employers have exploited the lack of provisions defining and limiting the use of probationary and short-term contracts. With Armenia’s high unemployment rate, the failure to stipulate precise regulations on employers allows them to exploit loopholes in existing law at the expense of workers.

Discrimination and Sexual Harassment

Article 29 of the CAR, adopted on December 2015 says that “Discrimination based on sex, race, color, ethnic or social origin, genetic characteristics, language, religion, worldview, political or other views, belonging to an ethnic minority, status of property ownership, origin, disability, age or other private or social factors, is prohibited.”[62] The Article 3(1)(3) of the LC states that one of the main principles of the labor legislation is “legal equality of parties to employment relations irrespective of their gender, race, national origin, language, origin, nationality, social status, religion, marital status, age, beliefs or views, affiliation to parties, trade unions or non-governmental organizations, other circumstances not associated with the professional skills of an employee”.[63] However, the current code only protects employees once they have entered into an employment relationship. It does not protect job seekers from discrimination, which could disproportionately affect Syrians seeking positions in a foreign job market. The law also does not explicitly protect employees from discrimination within the labor force or from entering trade unions.

As mentioned, any employee who is a victim of discrimination can seek justice in the courts. However, the lack of legal precedence on these issues demonstrates how infrequently employees are capable of taking their employers to court in discrimination cases even when the law explicitly protects them. For example, even though Article 178 of the LC grants equal pay for equal work for men and women, according to a United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) study in 2016, women in Armenia earned 35.9 percent less on average than men.[64]

Many victims of discrimination fear taking their employers to court for various reasons. For example, while “private and social factors” are mentioned as prohibited forms of discrimination, sexual orientation is not specifically referenced in the Constitution or the LC. Since the law does not explicitly protect against LGBTI discrimination, fear of discrimination and public disclosure of their sexual orientation prevents many LGBT people from reporting crimes to the government, according to PINK Armenia which reported 30 cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation in 2017.

There is little legal precedence in case law for sexual harassment cases either. Article 2(21) of the RA Law of 2013 on Ensuring Equal Rights and Equal Opportunities for Women and Men defines sexual harassment and in Article 6 cites sexual harassment as a form of gender-based discrimination. However, there is no reference to sexual harassment in labor legislation and no preventive, punitive, or restorative legal provisions related to sexual harassment. However, according to EU Directive 2002/73/EC, “employers and those responsible for vocational training should be encouraged to take measures to combat all forms of sexual discrimination and, in particular, to take preventive measures against harassment and sexual harassment in the workplace, in accordance with national legislation and practice.”[65]

Given Armenia’s limited employment opportunities and means for employees to protest discrimination and sexual harassment, the law needs to be explicit in providing preventative and punitive measures for violating the law and develop relatively unburdensome mechanisms for employees to redress their rights.

Child Labor

The RA has established laws and regulations related to child labor in the LC. Armenia has also ratified all key international conventions concerning child labor including: ILO Convention 138 on Minimum Age, ILO Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labor, UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), UN CRC Optional Protocol on Armed Conflict, UN CRC Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, and the Palermo Protocol on Trafficking in Persons. However, Armenia’s legal framework is lacking a definition of forced labor and the establishment of a national body with a mandate to perform inspections at work sites. These two gaps have severely hampered the RA’s ability to make progress towards combatting child labor. [66]

The US Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs rated Armenia as having achieved minimal advancement in combatting child labor. The report states that “Despite new initiatives to address child labor, Armenia is receiving this assessment because it continued to implement a law that delayed advancement in eliminating the worst forms of child labor. The government has lacked a functioning Labor Inspectorate since the 2014 repeal of Article 34 of the Labor Code, which previously established the government’s authority to conduct routine labor inspections.”[67]

According to the ILO, 9.8% of children aged 5-17 were engaged in labor in Armenia in 2015. However, the National Commission on the Protection of Child Rights only coordinates government efforts to prevent child begging. The Ministerial Council to Combat Human Trafficking coordinates government efforts on child trafficking but Armenia does not have a body to regulate child labor in street work, the service sector, and agriculture.[68] Since 94% and 64% of children aged 5-14 engaged in child labor in Armenia were engaged in agriculture in rural and urban areas respectively, this deficiency is a major obstacle to preventing child labor violations. The Health Inspection Body, one of the entities that replaced the State Inspectorate Body, can monitor compliance with legislation protecting workers under the age of 18, but cannot proactively inspect for child labor issues.[69] This means that minors would have to proactively seek justice and/or recompense from the courts or the inspectorate, which is not a realistic method for protecting children in the labor force.

Collective Redundancies

Several provisions of the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights relate to the protection of workers from unjustified dismissals including: Article 27 (worker information and consultation), Article 28 (right of collective bargaining and action), and Article 30 (the right to protection against unjustified dismissal).[70] The key definitional provision of a redundancy found in Article 1(1)(a) of the Directive 92/56/EEC defines collective redundancies as “dismissals effected by an employer for one or more reasons not related to the individual workers concerned”.[71]

Article 116 of the LC states that:

  • In case of liquidation of an organization or reduction in the number of employees, the employer shall be obliged to submit data on the number of dismissed employees (in accordance with profession, age and gender) to the State Employment Service of the Republic of Armenia and to the representative of the employees not later than three months prior to rescinding the employment contracts where it is envisaged to dismiss more than ten percent of the total number of employees, but not less than 10 employees during two months (mass dismissals).

While the notification period and the number of employees dismissed matches EU regulations on collective redundancies, the type of information and the necessity of consultation with workers and workers’ representatives in order to mitigate the harmful effects of mass dismissals is lacking the Labor Code. According to Article 2(3)(b) of the 92/56/EEC Directive, the employer is required to submit:

  • the reasons for the projected redundancies;
  • the number of categories of workers to be made redundant;
  • the number and categories of workers normally employed;
  • the period over which the projected redundancies are to be effected;
  • the criteria proposed for the selection of the workers to be made redundant in so far as national legislation and/or practice confers the power therefor upon the employer;
  • the method for calculating any redundancy payments other than those arising out of national legislation and/or practice; as well as “all relevant information” more broadly (Article 2(3)(a)). [72]

Additionally, the Directive Article 2(2) states that consultations with workers’ representatives “shall, at least, cover ways and means of avoiding collective redundancies or reducing the number of workers affected, and of mitigating the consequences by recourse to accompanying social measures aimed, inter alia, at aid for redeploying or retraining workers made redundant”.[73] Article 3(a-b) states that the employer shall supply these representatives with all relevant information including the aforementioned items.[74] The type of information and the consultative period is not defined in the RA LC.

Trade Unions

Legislative acts regulating trade union activities include the RA Constitution, the 87th Convention of the ILO on the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize, the RA Labor Code, and the 2000 RA Law on Trade Unions. The RA Constitution states that “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of labor interests”.[75] According to Article 21 of the RA Labor Code, employees can freely unite to create trade unions to protect and represent their rights and interests in accordance with regulations defined by the law.[76] The RA Law on Trade Unions clarified that the main function of the trade union was to “present and defend employment and employment-related social and other interests and rights of employees with an employer and/or third person…”[77] According to the 2000 Law, trade unions have the right to sign collective agreements with employers and the union of employers.[78]

The law regulating trade unions is fairly well-established and conforms with international standards in most cases. Most of the issues pertaining to the weaknesses of trade unions’ ability to protect workers’ rights, therefore, stems from administrative failures and lack of implementation mechanisms. These gaps will be further discussed in the administrative analysis section. However, there are some legislative gaps, which have weakened the union system in Armenia.

For example, trade unions can visit work sites in order to monitor conditions but they have no authority to demand action. If there is a risk to the health or safety of an employee, the union can submit a petition to employer demanding to undertake measures to prevent the risk or suspend the work in accordance with regulations defined by the law. However, because there is no punitive legislation, the employer can simply ignore the petition.

In case of legal dispute, employees can, in theory, take their case to court. However, most employees do not seek legal recourse because of the expenses and time required. Trade unions in Armenia have also failed to assist employee representatives in this regard as they are unable to represent their members in court. Legally, there are other hurdles. Under the RA Labor Code, there is a two-month statute of limitations for employees who wish to take their employer to court for an unjustified dismissal.[79] This regulation is unnecessarily restrictive and most citizens are unaware of this constraint.

Another restriction on trade unions and collective action is the law is related to strikes. In order for a strike to be legal, ensuring that the employees engaged in the strike are protected by law, there are several restrictions.

  1. Strikes can only be announced by trade unions or branch republican unions in case of lack of trade union within that company. According to the Labor Code of RA, the right to strike is provided solely to trade unions; not to employees by spontaneous collective action.
  2. Two-thirds of employees (not only members of the trade union) must agree to the strike by secret ballot. [80]

According to ILO experts, these excessive legal restrictions were some of the reasons that legal strikes were almost never carried out in practice in Armenia.[81]

Health and Safety

Matters concerning the health and safety of employees are regulated by the RA Labor Code and several EU Directives, including 89/391/EEC on the health and safety of workers at work. Article 243 of the RA Labor Code states that: “1. Adequate, safe conditions and conditions harmless for health established by law shall be created for every employee during labor. 2. The employer shall be obliged to maintain the health and safety of the employees. Taking into consideration the level of danger of production for employees, the employer shall include within the organization a qualified service for ensuring the safety of employees and maintaining their health, or shall personally carry out that function.”[82] Both under the Directive and under the RA Labor Code, it is the responsibility of the employer to protect the health and safety of workers.

However, the EU Directive 89/391/EEC defines a more specific and proactive approach to protecting workers’ health and safety than defined by RA Law. Specifically, EU Directive 89/391/EEC states that the employer shall:

Evaluate all the risks to the safety and health of workers, inter alia in the choice of work equipment, the chemical substances or preparations used, and the fitting-out of work places; implement measures which assure an improvement in the level of protection afforded to workers and are integrated into all the activities of the undertaking and/or establishment at all hierarchical levels; take into consideration the worker’s capabilities as regards health and safety when he entrusts tasks to workers; consult workers on introduction of new technologies; designate worker(s) to carry out activities related to the protection and prevention of occupational risks; take the necessary measures for first aid, fire-fighting, evacuation of workers and action required in the event of serious and imminent danger; keep a list of occupational accidents and draw up and draw up, for the responsible authorities reports on occupational accidents suffered by his workers; inform and consult workers and allow them to take part in discussions on all questions relating to safety and health at work; ensure that each worker receives adequate safety and health training.[83]

The EU Directive 89/391/EEC clearly states that it is the employees’ right to participate in discussions and decisions related to their health and safety on the job. In order to bring RA Labor Code in conformance with EU standards and more effectively combat violations to health and safety regulations, RA labor legislation should define and incorporate conditions for maintaining safe working places. Additionally, RA labor legislation should guarantee that workers are adequately consulted in issues related to their health and safety by defining the obligations of the employer. The law should also further specify the responsibilities of the employer in terms of providing safe working conditions, providing information to their employees, raising awareness of potential dangers, and providing necessary training before an accident occurs or the employee demands it. According to EU Directive 89/391/EEC, it is also necessary to define the procedure for designating certain workers and/or designating a service provider to monitor health and safety. The law should also specify the legal consequences for an employer who fails to meet their obligations.

As aforementioned, it is necessary to provide state oversight of the existence, maintenance, and operation of collective and individual protection measures for the safety and health of workers. Currently, the Health Inspection Body has 23 inspectors who are not allowed to perform inspections. The body merely takes written complaints from people. Last year, the Health Inspection Body only received 45 complaints, nine of which were directly related to health and safety of workers and the rest were related to medical services, pharmaceuticals, etc.[84] Out of a population of 1.5 million workers, this paltry number of complaints submitted demonstrates two important flaws in the current system:

  1. As a result of the high unemployment rate in Armenia, employees are reluctant to complain about their current jobs and will be even more hesitant to submit a formal written complaint.
  2. Without an independent monitoring body, employers will be free to violate health and safety regulations even if the law specifies the obligations of employers and the punishment for violations.

Minimum Wage, Social Security, and Unemployment Benefits

The fundamental purpose of minimum wage fixing is to ensure a decent standard of living for low-paid workers and their families. According to Article 3 of the ILO Minimum Wage Fixing Convention, 1970 (No. 131): “The elements to be taken into consideration in determining the level of minimum wages shall, so far as possible and appropriate in relation to national practice and conditions, include—

(a) the needs of workers and their families, taking into account the general level of wages in the country, the cost of living, social security benefits, and the relative living standards of other social groups;
(b) economic factors, including the requirements of economic development, levels of productivity and the desirability of attaining and maintaining a high level of employment.”[85]

According to this Convention, the government is required to ensure that minimum wage levels adequately reflect the socio-economic realities prevailing in the country, as prescribed by Convention No. 131. However, the 2004 Labor Code does not specify the procedure for fixing the minimum wage. The Minimum Wage Act of 2004 also does not specify how the minimum wage is to be determined. As a result, for many years, the minimum wage fell below the minimum consumer basket. Currently, the minimum wage has stood at 55,000AMD for five years. However, according to the National Statistical Committee, the minimum consumer basket in Armenia was 61,113.60AMD per month in Q4 2018.[86] There are currently discussions within government to again raise the minimum wage. However, there is still a gap in the legislation determining how the minimum wage is determined year to year. This means that even if the RA decides to raise the minimum wage, it could still fall below a living wage if yearly inflation and other socio-economic indicators are not taken into consideration.

According to Article 37 of the CAR, a worker retains the right to social security whether it be in old age, for disability, loss of main wage earner, unemployment and other cases prescribed by the law. According to the Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention, 1952 (No. 102), social security should cover medical care, sickness, unemployment, old age, employment injury, family, maternity, invalidity and survivors’ benefits. To ensure that it could be applied in all national circumstances, the convention offers states the possibility of ratification by accepting at least three of these nine coverage areas. The level of minimum benefits can be determined with reference to the level of wages in the country concerned. Temporary exceptions may also be envisaged for countries whose economy and medical facilities are insufficiently developed, thereby enabling them to restrict the scope of the convention and the coverage of the benefits granted.[87]

Armenia currently does not pay unemployment benefits or provide mandatory social security for maternity, sickness, medical care, etc. However, the RA does provide access to placement services which is a right stipulated in Article 29 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights of 2000.[88] Families that score low on the vulnerability index (a set of factors have been developed to assess each family’s score) are eligible for monthly payments. However, the amount provided for pensions and for poor families does not meet the current minimum wage. At the end of 2018, the Armenian government adopted a decision according to which the minimum amount of state benefits for those on welfare was raised to 25,500 AMD a month from the previous 16,000 AMD.[89] The decision came into force on January 1, 2019 and affected about 64,000 citizens, 5,693 of whom are seniors not eligible for pensions.[90] There are 322,692 senior citizens in Armenia, who do receive an average pension of 41,789 AMD according to the 2018 data of the National Statistical Committee (NSC) of Armenia. However, according to the NSC, the monthly consumer basket is 61,113 AMD and according to the World Bank, the monthly minimum consumer basket is 49,219 AMD. Both figures are strikingly higher than the pension or social security benefits received by individuals in Armenia.

A thorough analysis of the legislation applicable to labor rights as they relate to Armenian and Syrian workers finds that the Labor Code is closely aligned to international standards. The RA has made significant strides in the past two decades by ratifying a number of international treaties on labor rights and amending its own labor code. As mentioned, labor legislation would benefit from clarifying legal definitions, expanding legally mandated responsibilities of the State and the employer to uphold workers’ rights, and further defining the repercussions of violating the labor code. However, the 2017 Communique on the Activities of the Human Rights Defender of the Republic of Armenia and the 2018 State of Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms Report cited that the main complaints were related to unjustified dismissals, failure to notify employees of dismissal within the timeline defined by law, and failure to pay remuneration for probation.[91] All of these issues are stringently outline in Armenian labor law. Therefore, greater institutional capacity building and closing administrative gaps is required to implement and enforce the existing legislation.

There are three main administrative barriers to protecting Syrian workers: 1) lack of resources for a State Inspection Body charged with overseeing adherence to labor legislation; 2) the effectiveness of trade unions; and 3) a lack of mechanisms to combat violations of child labor policy.

State Inspection Body

In a country with so few available jobs, the government cannot solely rely on workers to seek rectification. Most employees fear losing their jobs and cannot pay for legal fees. As mentioned, it is the government’s responsibility to charge an inspection body with overseeing compliance with labor legislation. The absence of a well-resourced inspection agency, charged with preventing and remedying labor legislation violations, has put an undue burden on the courts, unions, and civil society organizations to monitor what the state is required to regulate according to EU law. The number of cases involving labor rights has dramatically risen since the inspection body lost its ability to conduct inspections even though most labor violations never make it to the courts. As Heriknaz Tigranyan said, “workers might tell an inspector that they aren’t being paid overtime but they won’t take their employer to court over this.”[92] As a result, employers, typically with more resources than their employees, have been relatively free to violate labor rights even when the law protects employees. It is important that the inspectorate be able to intervene in cases where violations by employers result in losses to employees that were not great enough to justify legal action given the costs in time and money of court procedures.

However, even if the mandate of the RA inspection bodies expands to include monitoring compliance with all aspects of labor legislation, the new inspectorate needs the adequate resources to fulfill the mission. Author interviews with those who worked with the State Inspectorate Body, when it had the mandate to monitor compliance with labor legislation, stated that the effectiveness of the entity was still limited due to corruption and lack of trained professional inspectors.[93]

The current Inspection Body is unable to conduct quality inspections, including targeted, complaint-based, and unannounced inspections. The data on the number and type of inspections, violations, and penalties are also not made publicly available. The number of inspectors would also need to be increased to meet the ILO technical advice for the Armenian labor force. The inspectors themselves would need to be sufficiently trained civil servants. Others interviewed stated that the police and state security should also monitor the work of the inspection body to avoid the possibility of corruption and add another check in the system.[94]

Effectiveness of Trade Unions

As mentioned in the previous section, Armenian law regulating trade unions, for the most part, conforms with international standards. However, in practice, trade unions are weak in Armenia and do not have a strong history of defending labor rights. During the Soviet era, unions acted on behalf of the State to dole out social benefits and organize events.[95] Since the fall of the Soviet Union, trade unions have been unable to provide social benefits to the same degree and, have instead been relegated to arranging social events for members.[96] As a result, few citizens or, even trade union leaders understand that unions should, first and foremost, defend labor rights for workers. Administratively and culturally, Armenians have not recognized the full potential of trade unions in preventing, negotiating, and litigating for labor rights.[97]

It has been assumed that trade unions lack the resources to provide additional services to its members. However, trade union membership is quite high in Armenia. The APR Group posits the following estimate: “If theoretically all trade union members are paid a minimum monthly salary, which is AMD55,000, in case of 191,098 members the financial flow to the trade union will make up AMD105,103,900 monthly and AMD1,261,246,800 or USD2,600,000 annually.”[98] Since trade unions do not make their financial expenditures public, it is impossible to know if they would be able to use revenue to provide trainings, conduct inspections, or provide legal services for workers. However, this minimum estimate of annual membership dues suggests that trade unions could do more for employees. At the very least, trade unions could improve their legitimacy by making their financial expenditures public.

Currently, the established trade union system is not living up to its potential as human rights defenders. Traditional union leaders do not take a proactive stance in prevention of violations and protection of labor rights. Providing outreach and education on the goals of trade unions in defending workers’ rights is also not a priority. New independent trade unions (or “primary trade unions”) are emerging to compete with the established union system and negotiating better deals for their members. The Confederation of Trade Unions of Armenia (CTUA) should learn from independent unions’ efforts.

The lack of an independent inspection system’s mandate also weakens collective action. A state inspection system should provide oversight of the implementation of collective agreements and ensure that employers are engaged in negotiations and responding to union petitions regarding the health and safety of employees.

Child Labor

Several issues have hindered progress on combatting violations of child labor laws including the lack of: 1) coordination mechanisms to monitor child labor in the agriculture and the service industries, 2) social programs directly targeting children working in the agriculture and the service industries, and 3) an inspection body with the resources and capability to monitor child labor.

The National Commission on the Protection of Child Rights coordinates government efforts to prevent child begging, and the Ministerial Council to Combat Human Trafficking coordinates government efforts on child trafficking.[99] However, Armenia lacks a mechanism to coordinate efforts to prevent child labor in other forms of street work, the service sector, and agriculture. On the ground, this has translated to a lack of progress in combatting the worst forms of child labor.

Although the Government of Armenia has implemented social programs to address child labor, existing programs to not specifically address children working in agriculture and the service sector which is where most children work.[100] Social programs would also help Syrian children who may be more vulnerable to dropping out of school and working to support their families.

While the Health Inspection Body does have the mandate to monitor the health and safety of people under age 18 in the work place, there is no mechanism for actually inspecting work sites and punishing offenders.[101] The new Inspection Body must have the mandate but also the training, resources, and capacity to monitor, inspect, and enforce child labor laws. Providing law enforcement officials with specialized training on interviewing children who may be victims of exploitation is also necessary for effectively implementing RA law and the international treaties it has signed, which commit the government to combating child labor.[102]

The Evolution of Labor Rights Worldwide and in Armenia

Labor law as it is known today is essentially the product of the industrial revolution and successive development of trade unions from the 18th century onward. As England was the first country to industrialize, it was also the first to face the often appalling consequences of capitalist exploitation in a totally unregulated economic framework. During this time there was a huge surge of new workers into the workplace that needed representation. It was at this time that labor unions were developed into a number of forms, influenced by various political and economic regimes. In fact, this was a new form of bottom-up political and economic activism. The fundamental ideals upheld by traditional labor unions include the provision of member benefits, the right to collectively bargain, and the right to take industrial actions.

The labor inspections spread out parallel to the labor unions. They came to be considered as responsibility of state intervention, an obligation of government to protect the integrity of its working population. From the mid-19th century, attention was first paid to the plight of working conditions for the workforce in general. These early efforts were principally aimed at limiting child and women labor. A great milestone in labor law was reached with the Factory Act of 1833, which limited the employment of children under eighteen years of age, prohibited all night work and, crucially, provided for inspectors to enforce the law. This act was an important step forward, in that it mandated skilled inspection of workplaces and rigorous enforcement of the law by an independent governmental body.[103]

During the 19th century, it had become apparent that revision and consolidation of the multiplicity of statutes regulating the manufacturing industry had become pressingly necessary; modifications for exceptional conditions in separate industries needed reconsideration and systematization on clear principles, and the main requirements of the labor law could with great advantage be applied more generally to all the industries. In particular, the daily limits as to the period of employment, pauses for meals, and holidays, needed to be unified for all types of factories and workshops, so as to bring about a standard working-day, sanitary and educational conditions. By the end of the century, a comprehensive set of regulations had been put in place in England. As other countries industrialized in the late 19th century, they also adopted similar legislative acts to prevent and mitigate large scale abuse in the industry.[104] The founding of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) by several unions of skilled workers in 1886 marked the beginning of a continuous large-scale labor movement in the United States. Its member groups comprised national trade or craft unions that organized local unions and negotiated wages, hours, and working conditions.

It was not until the latter part of the 19th century that efforts were made to implement uniform standards on an international scale. In 1919, following the end of the First World War, the agenda on international labor standards reached a new level of prominence as a result of the founding of the International Labor Organization (ILO). As mandated by Part XIII of the Treaty of Versailles, the ILO was created as a branch of the League of Nations in order to address all conceivable aspects of labor rights. Preliminary efforts focused primarily on the eradication of slavery and all forms of forced labor. There was also an increasing understanding of the world’s economic interdependence and the need for cooperation to obtain similarity of working conditions in countries competing for markets[105]. The Republic of Armenia is a member of the ILO since 1992. On July 2006, RA ratified 29 international Conventions. The cooperation between the ILO and the Republic of Armenia is based on tripartism principle by encouraging “social dialogue” between trade unions and employers in the formulation and implementation of national policy on socio-economic issues.

The first trade unions in Armenia were formed in 1905-1906. By the end of 1922, the various trade unions of education, tanner-workers, metal-workers, municipal workers, construction workers, food industry workers, railway workers, sewing workers, typists and health workers were finally formed in the republic. In spite of the fact that in the Soviet Union, workers and peasants joined trade unions, after the collapse of the USSR, this tradition was lost in the Republic of Armenia and trade unions became formalities rather than an effective mechanism for the protection of labor rights. On December 5, 2000, the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia adopted the Law “On Trade Unions” which was necessary to incorporate the activities of trade unions within the realms of legislation.

Labor Rights Situation of Syrian Workers

In light of the absence of a durable housing solution for Syrians in Armenia, the only rational path for Syrians to become homeowners in Armenia is through the labor and banking markets of RA. The Armenian labor market is plagued by high unemployment rate, which makes the integration of Syrian in the local labor market challenging.[106] Armenia’s unemployment rate was around 17.% in the second quarter, down from the previously reported number of 21.90 % in the first quarter of 2019. Armenia’s unemployment rate is updated quarterly by the Statistical Committee of the Republic of Armenia.

According to Aleppo-NGO’s labor rights survey, the majority of Syrians working in Yerevan arrived to RA between 2012 and 2015, while the city of Aleppo was constantly being targeted by mortar bombs (an indiscriminate form of weapon) launched by extremist armed groups based in “East Aleppo.”

Since their migration to Armenia, Syrians (primarily Syrian Armenians) have made dramatic shifts in the industries they work in due to the underdeveloped nature of some industries (compared to Syria) in Armenia. While the majority of Syrian workers in Armenia used to operate within the handcraft and crafts industry (including automobile industry) in Syria, very few Syrians were involved in the food industry.

The following graph show the drastic shift in the industries Syrians used to operate in Syria compared to the industries they are currently operating in.

As indicated in the graph, 25% of Syrians who are currently working in Armenia had never engaged in any income generating activity. 61% of those who did not work in Syria were of an age that would have allowed them to work in Syria and 76% of those who were of a working age but had no prior working experience in Syria were women.

Real Unemployment Rate

Based on the feedback of 307 Syrians Aleppo-NGO reached out to, we determined that the real unemployment rate amongst Syrians was 46%, while the gender real unemployment gap is 77% women and 23% males. 

Real Unemployment Rate vs Standard Unemployment Rate: the real unemployment rate, includes the underemployed, the marginally attached, and discouraged workers, and is often double the rate of standard unemployment rate used by bureaus of labor (ministries of labor and social affairs) and in Armenia’s case the Statistical Committee of RA. The standard unemployment rate only accounts people without jobs who are in the labor force, i.e. have been actively seeking employment in the preceding weeks and months.

At first glance, the inclusion of the Real Unemployment Rate as opposed to the Standard Unemployment Rate may be perceived as data manipulation, however, taking into account that the subject group is a refugee population, which is more susceptible to feeling marginalized and discouraged from working due to a variety of cultural, linguistic, as well as the incoherence of the industries in Armenia to that of Syria, it’s important to highlight the real unemployment rate amongst Syrians in Armenia.

More importantly, the gender real unemployment gap of 77% confirms the cultural and socio-psychological barriers Syrian women, especially Syrian Armenian women, faced in Syria and continue to face in Armenia. In Syria, the majority of women were often perceived as ‘housewives’ or ‘trophy wives’ and as such, they were discouraged by their family and society at large from engaging in any income generating activity. The fact that the vast majority of real unemployed Syrians in Armenia are women should confirm the continued need for developing and implementing women empowerment programs by both the RA government and non-governmental organizations.

Educational Level of Syrians in Armenia

Unemployment rate is often intertwined with the literacy level of workers. During this survey we identified the educational level of all survey participants (SPs), but to better determine the decision making process of Syrians who are generating income in Armenia we also separately analyzed the educational level of Syrian workers (SWs), Syrian [registered/legal] private entrepreneurs (PEs), as well as unregistered [illegally operating] private entrepreneurs (UPEs).

The following charts show the educational level of all categories of Syrians workers in Armenia.

Moreover, the research also separated the year of arrival of SWs, PEs, UPEs, to identify whether there was a correlation between year of arrival and engagement in one form of income generation or another.

The analysis of the type of income generation activity engaged by Syrians in Yerevan also included the age and gender components, as demonstrated in the following charts:

As demonstrated by the series of charts above, young Syrians often work as employees rather than engage in entrepreneurial activities, while females are more prone to engaging in unregistered (illegal) private entrepreneurship than legal ones.

Moreover, the survey findings showed that persons holding a BA or an MA degree, i.e. the highest level of education recorded amongst Syrians working in Yerevan, engage in illegal entrepreneurship more than registered ones. Most importantly, the majority of UPEs had arrived to Armenia in 2012, thus had plenty of time to get acquainted with the laws of RA and yet they continue to operate within the shadow economy.

Labor Rights Violations

Labor Rights violations are often the result of employer decisions- whether to pay the minimum wage or overtime, whether to give workers meal breaks or how to respond to complaints about working conditions. Because some types of businesses tend to violate employment and labor laws more than others, there is considerable variation in violation rates across occupations and industries. Violations of labor and employment law also vary with the demographic characteristics of the workforce. Among Syrian respondents, different types of labor violations were greater for women than men as the rights of 95% of female Syrian workers were violated one way or another. Higher levels of education offered some protection from labor violations, but even workers with BA and MA degrees (36 percent) still were at significant risk.

Gender Pay Gap

The overall gender pay gap amongst Syrian workers across all industries was higher than the national average of Armenia for 2017.

More importantly, beyond the widespread labor rights violations against women, there were clear indicators of gender discrimination as there was a clear gender pay gap among Syrian women and Syrian men (of equal educational backgrounds) working in similar industries (see chart below).

Absence or Breach of Employment Contracts

Employees have rights provided and in theory protected by law (aka statutory rights). These rights are in addition to any rights workers have under their employment contract. Statutory rights may include but are not limited to:

  • a right to a written statement of the terms of employment;
  • a right to an itemized pay statement;
  • a right to maternity leave;
  • a right not to be unfairly dismissed, etc.

Generally, employees and employers can agree on any unique terms through employment or service provision contracts. However, the employer cannot set contractual terms in employment contracts which strip employees of their basic statutory rights. Still, in the case of Syrian workers in Armenia, the most common violation, with which all other violations are directly interconnected, is the absence of an employment contract. 42 percent of the Syrian workers were not registered employees, while an additional 21 percent did not know if they were registered employees or were not provided a copy of their employment contract. Many of those respondents who claimed to be registered employees but do not have copies of their contracts did not know the type of their contract (employment or service provision contract).

Probation (Trial) Period

In Armenia, it is common for employers to hire new employees on a ‘probationary’ period when they first start work. This emboldens the employer’s ability to dismiss an employee without prior warning during the ‘probation’ period. Employers also often argue that employees do not have the basic employment rights such as pay or holiday during this ‘trial’ period. However, according to the Labor laws of Armenia, the ‘probationary’ period could be agreed upon between the employee and employer for a maximum duration of three months.[107] More importantly, once a person starts working, the number of days/weeks worked (often used to determine pay and holiday leave) starts to accumulate from the first day of employment, not the date the three month ‘probationary’ period ends.

Nevertheless, in real life, 26 percent of Syrian workers went through a ‘probation’ period without pay. Of those who were not paid during the probation period, 39 percent were not registered and continued to remain unregistered throughout their employment period. This confirms that the labor rights of these Syrian workers were violated from the very beginning of their work.

Although Aleppo-NGO’s labor rights research was quantitative, one case that the researcher stumbled upon was too egregious to ignore:

In 2017, due to his family’s extreme vulnerability, “S.B”, 15 years old at the time, sought employment at one of the largest food providers in Armenia. Upon hiring S.B., the manager of the company obliged him to work for 12 hours per day. S.B. was informed that he had to go through a three week ‘probation period’ before they start paying his daily salary.

“Three weeks later, the manager honored his word and started paying me…” said S.B. during an in-depth interview with Sarkis Balkhian, executive director of Aleppo-NGO.

“…They paid me 1,000 AMD for 12 hours of work…”  

After getting paid for a few days, S.B. realized that the 1,000 AMD was a very low salary for the time and work he was carrying so he quit without noticing the employer.   

As Syrians in RA generally continue their daily socio-cultural communications amongst themselves, the terms of employment and hiring remain in most cases intra-group. Job hiring conditions are also a strong indicator of potential violations. Therefore, 42 percent of survey participants were hired through the mediation of a friend or relative, 54 percent of which were not registered workers. Inside the group, Syrian workers continue to maintain the same social relations that they had before moving to Armenia, that is, in most cases, they were hired for the job through an oral agreement.

Work Hours, Overtime, Rest Days and Paid Vacation

Nine percent of Syrian workers were working more than 12 hours per day, which is a violation of the labor code of RA. Many Syrian workers were also exceeding the 48-hour work week limit by voluntarily not taking rest days or because their employer was forcing them to work overtime hours on consecutive days during the weekdays.  

None of the Syrian workers who participated in the survey had lodged a complaint to the official body (The Healthcare and Labor Inspectorate of the Republic of Armenia, the court) about their labor violation or had attempted to form a union. Only 8 percent of respondents made complaints direct to the employer about their labor rights violations and 31 percent of them were fired as a result. Another 9 percent of Syrian respondents indicated that they had not complained during the work practice in Armenia even though they had experienced a serious problem such as dangerous working conditions, discrimination, or not being paid for the work they completed. A part of the respondents in this group (33 percent) indicated that they did not complain because they were afraid of losing their job, another 27 percent feared for their or their relatives’ lives and safety, as they were coerced by their employers. Finally, 47 percent claimed that they didn’t know the Labor code of Armenia, therefore it would make no difference if they complained as they wouldn’t know if their complaint was legal or not.

Origin of Employers of Syrian Workers

As acknowledged in the summary of this report, due to the positive attitudes of the population and government of RA towards Syrian refugees, this labor rights research was not focused on determining any discriminatory attitudes by local employers towards Syrian workers. Nevertheless, during the survey, the respondents were asked to provide the names of their employers.

For the protection of employees, the list of companies that have and continue to violate the labor rights of Syrian workers shall not become public information. Nevertheless, through a thorough analysis of the company names (made available by respondents) and the names of company owners, using the e-register website, Aleppo-NGO’s data analyst was able to compile the following statistics on the origins of some of the employers who are hiring Syrian workers.[108]

Although most Syrian workers were being employed by local companies, there was no discernible pattern between the origin of the employer and recorded labor rights violations, that is to say that Syrian workers’ rights were being violated at an equal or even greater degree by Syrian employers than local ones. Moreover, the rights of Syrian workers employed in the public sector (5%) or by international organizations (4%) were protected.  

Conclusion

As previously stated, homeownership, according to a variety of global indexes, is not just one issue among many, but rather the key factor that can determine a family’s general well-being and security.[109] For the poorest, homeownership serves as “a crucial foundation for [finding] a path out of poverty.” Rather than draining income on rent, low-income homeowners gradually build equity in their properties, and as a result, “the median net wealth of low-income homeowners is dramatically higher than the median net wealth of low-income renters.”[110]

Since homeownership gives otherwise cash-strapped local Armenians a precious source of “start-up capital, guarantees for new mortgages, or collateral for business loans,” which enables them to endure Armenia’s difficult economic conditions, it is impossible to facilitate the full economic integration of Syrians (primarily Syrian-Armenians) in Armenia without solving their long-term housing crisis.

Taking into account that there are currently no local nor international solutions to the housing crisis of Syrians in Armenia, it is paramount to protect the rights of Syrian workers to afford them the opportunity to access the banking system of Armenia and acquire housing loans and mortgages.

Most importantly, this research identified that more than 50% of Syrian workers are between the ages of 16-34. The research also confirmed the already known fact that the vast majority of Syrian youth are either citizens of the republic of Armenia or residents of the country (especially males under the age 27 who acquire residency status to evade military service), thus are legally allowed to purchase properties in RA.

Consequently, if their labor rights of young Syrian workers are protected, as they should be according to the labor laws of RA, then they would also be able to take advantage of already existing government subsidized housing programs, such as the “Affordable Housing for Young Families” program, which allows newlyweds to purchase apartments in Yerevan for up to 16,000,000 AMD ($USD 33,334) by placing a down payment of 30% ($10,000), and paying 6.5-7.5% interest rate on housing loans with a repayment period of at least 10 years.[111]

Although the Affordable Housing for Young Families program is not as ideal for young Syrian workers as it is for local young workers whose families already own real estate properties, and thus they can mortgage the existing property to finance the $10,000 needed for down payment, nevertheless, the program does shed a ray of hope for Syrian (primarily Syrian Armenians) newlyweds who may be able to loan the down payment through other means.

The restoration of the rule of law by the new government of Armenia, which came into power following the ‘2018 Velvet Revolution’, is paramount in the protection of labor rights of locals as well as Syrians and ensuring a dignified future for the entire population of Armenia (including ethnic minorities like the Yezidis, refugees and asylum seekers from Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, African states, as well as migrant workers from India, Iran, and elsewhere). Moreover, the enforcement of law in governing the entrepreneurial activities of Syrians and locals is paramount in accomplishing several goals that go beyond the essential goal of protecting human rights, such as:

  • Registered entrepreneurship, similar to registered employment, affords Syrians the opportunity to access the banking system of Armenia and acquire loans and mortgages for housing or to engage in any other credit based activity such as purchasing furniture, cell phones, etc.;
  • Registered entrepreneurship increases the revenues of the government through tax collection and thus can contribute to the development and implementation of social welfare programs;
  • Registered and regularized entrepreneurship can incentivize foreign investors to invest in Armenia, whereas a country where both the labor force and private entrepreneurs continue to operate in the shadow economy is not an enticing destination for foreign investors and multi-national corporations who often abide by local laws, including labor and tax laws;
  • Unregistered entrepreneurs, operating from their rented dwellings, who are engaged in the food industry through the production and delivery of wholesale products to restaurants undermine all sanitation and hygiene codes of RA.

As it pertains to this challenge, international and local organizations also have an important role to play if they are engaged in projects that supply equipment and tools to Syrian and local vulnerable individuals. Moving forward, these institutions must demand that the beneficiaries register their ‘businesses’ according to the laws of RA.

Acknowledgments

This report was researched and written by Eviya Hovhannissian, researcher at Aleppo-NGO and Armenia Project Coordinator at Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung South Caucasus. The legal analysis of this report was provided on a pro-bono basis by Natasha Hall. The data analysis of the survey results was carried out by Sarkis Balkhian, executive director of Aleppo-NGO, who also wrote and reviewed segments of the report.

Nanor Apelian, publications volunteer at Aleppo-NGO, prepared the report for publication.

Aleppo-NGO would like to thank the participants of the survey, including SWs, PEs, and UPEs, as well as the experts who provided legal and administrative insight and analysis into Armenia’s labor rights crisis. These experts included but are not limited to the following:

  • Ashot Harutyunyan, Head of Department for Health Care and Security of Employees at the Health and Labor Inspectorate office of RA.
  • Alvard Arshakyan, Chief Officer of Department for Health Care and Security of Employees at the Health and Labor Inspectorate office of RA.
  • Heriknaz Tigranyan, Member of the National Assembly of Armenia and Committee Deputy Chair of the Standing Committee on Health Care and Social Affairs.
  • Janna Simonyan, Expert at Concern Dialog law firm, July 12, 2019.
  • Ruben Sargsyan, Chairman at Advanced Public Research Group (APR) group.

Aleppo-NGO would also like to thank Mr. Andranik Manukyan and Ms. Liana Sahakyan of the U.S. Embassy in Armenia for their continued support during the implementation of the “Labor Rights Are Human Rights” project.  Last but not least, Aleppo-NGO thanks the U.S. Embassy in Armenia, U.S Department of State for providing the funding for this research through the Democracy Commission Small Grants Program.

Bibliography

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  7. Anderson A., Wright C. (1911). “Labour Legislation” . In Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. URL: https://archive.org/stream/Encyclopaediabri16chisrich_201303/encyclopaediabri16chisrich_djvu.txt .
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  9. The Constitution of the Republic of Armenia (CRA) was adopted on 5 July 1995. This is the fourth Constitution in the history of Armenia.
  10. Labor Code of the RA.
  11. ILO Convention.
  12. “Comparative Analysis of the Armenian Labour Law and EU Standards,” Human Rights Defender of the Republic of Armenia in cooperation with the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Ad-hoc Public Report, Yerevan, 2019, p. 4.
  13. Nazaretian, Tiruhi A. and Tilman Alexander Busch, “Armenian Trade Unions – Problems and Challenges”, the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Study, February 2017.
  14. “Collective Labor Rights Protection Mechanisms in Armenia Research Report”, Advanced Public Research Group NGO, Working Document, Yerevan, 2019, p. 13.
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  17. Convention concerning Minimum Wage Fixing, with Special Reference to Developing Countries (Entry into force: 29 Apr 1972) Adoption: Geneva, 54th ILC session (22 Jun 1970).
  18. Annual Communique on the Activities of the Human Rights Defender of the Republic of Armenia, and the State of Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms during the Year 2017, 2018., pp. 76-88 // Available at http://www.ombuds.am/resources/ombudsman/uploads/ les/publications/b5220dd0b83b420a5ab8bb037a1e02ca.pdf.

Footnotes

[1] Advanced Public Research Group-NGO, “Result of a Study on the Situation of Labor Rights Protection,” 2018., pp-13,16. https://www.aprgroup.org/images/Library/OSF/final%20report_arm_06-10-2018-for-publishing.pdf (accessed on December 1, 2019). 

[2] Statistical Committee of the Republic of Armenia, “Incomes,” pg. 129. https://www.armstat.am/file/article/trud_18_5.pdf (accessed on December 1, 2019).

[3] Interview with Mr. Ashot Harutyunyan, the Head of the Department for Health Care and Security of Employees at the Health and Labor Inspectorate of the Republic of Armenia (June 26, 2019).

[4] Ministry of Diaspora of the Republic of Armenia, “State Policy,” 2018. http://www.mindiaspora.am/am/petakan_qaxaqakanutyun (accessed on December 5, 2019).

[5] Unified Website for Publication of Legal Acts’ Drafts, “Draft Integration Strategy for Persons Displaced from Syria…”.  https://www.e-draft.am/en/projects/679/about (accessed December 15, 2019).

[6] Morris Habitat for Humanity, “HABITAT FOR HUMANITY IN ARMENIA.” https://www.morrishabitat.org/programs/special-builds/armenia (accessed on December 1, 2019).

[7] Global Housing Policy Indicator, “Habitat for Humanity: The Global Housing Policy Indicators,” 2011. http://globalhousingindicators.org/sites/globalhousingindicators.org/files/Armenia%20GHI%20Final.pdf (accessed on December 1, 2019).

[8] Habitat for Humanity, “Beneficial impacts of homeownership: A research summary.” http://www.habitatbuilds.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Benefits-of-Homeownership-Research-Summary.pdf (accessed on December 1, 2019).

[9] Eric S. Belsky, Nicholas P. Retsinas and Mark Duda-Joint Center for Housing Studies (Harvard University), “The financial Return to Low-Income Homeownership,” 2005. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/82af/14f3557f5858d1b4dfbd8f575688988fa972.pdf (accessed on December 1, 2019).

[10] Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Citizenship,” November 2007. https://www.mfa.am/en/citizenship/ (accessed November 2, 2019).

[11] Luna Atamian, “Armenia and the Syrian Refugee Crisis | HuffPost,” March 2, 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/luna-atamian-/armenia-and-the-syrian-re_b_9361844.html. (accessed February 2019).

[12] Economic Development and Research Center (EDRC), “Economic Integration of Displaced Syrian Persons in Armenia,” November 2016. http://www.edrc.am/images/Useful_Publications/aer_2016_eng.pdf (accessed December 1, 2019).

[13] United Nations, “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. https://www.un.org/en/udhrbook/pdf/udhr_booklet_en_web.pdf (accessed on December 1, 2019). 

[14] Aurora Humanitarian Index 2017, “I Would Welcome Refugees in My Country,” pg. 19. https://auroraprize.com/en/aurora/article/humanitarian_index/10836/aurora-humanitarian-index-2017-0 (accessed December 1, 2019). 

[15] Republic of Armenia was the only state that maintained an operational Consulate General in Aleppo and an Embassy in Damascus throughout the Syrian Conflict (2011-present), which enabled Syrian Armenians to acquire visas, residency status, as well as dual citizenship thus ensuring their freedom of movement while neighboring states had shut down their borders with Syria.  

[16] Article 3 of the ILO Minimum Wage Fixing Convention, 1970 (No. 131).

[17] Guide on Measuring Decent Jobs for Youth Monitoring, evaluation and learning in labor market programs: Note 2 Concepts and definitions of employment indicators relevant to young people, ILO, 2018.

[18] Interview with Mr. Ashot Harutyunyan, the Head of the Department for Health Care and Security of Employees at the Health and Labor Inspectorate of the Republic of Armenia (June 26, 2019).

[19] The Constitution of the Republic of Armenia (CRA) was adopted on 5 July 1995. This is the fourth Constitution in the history of Armenia.

[20] Constitution of the Republic of Armenia Article 5(3).

[21] Constitution of the Republic of Armenia Article 6.

[22] Constitution of the Republic of Armenia Article 5(1).

[23] Constitution of the Republic of Armenia Article 45.

[24] Constitution of the Republic of Armenia Article 57.

[25] Constitution of the Republic of Armenia Article 32.

[26] Constitution of the Republic of Armenia Article 58.

[27] Adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession by General Assembly resolution 2200A (XXI) of 16 December 1966; entry into force 3 January 1976.

[28] For a complete list see http://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:11200:0::NO::P11200_COUNTRY_ID:102540).

[29] Legislation of the European Union refers to the sources of primary and secondary law including the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, Founding Treaties, as well as regulations, directives and decisions taken by the European Council, the Parliament and the Commission.

[30] Under Article 17 of the LC, employees are defined as persons who perform certain work for the benefit of an employer by virtue of specialty, qualification or position. Article 18 defines employers as participants in labor relations who use the labor of citizens on the basis of a labor contract and/or procedure defined by law.

[31] Article 102 of the 2004 Labor Code of the RA.

[32] Article 7 Paragraph 8 Labor Code of the Republic of Armenia 2004, (Article 7 supplemented by HO-117-N of 24 June 2010).

[33] Constitution of the Republic of Armenia Article 45(3).

[34] Constitution of the Republic of Armenia Article 58 (2).

[35] Article 284 of the CEPA.

[36] ILO Convention No. 81 Article 1.

[37] ILO Convention No. 81 Article 1-3.

[38] Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. http://www.mlsa.am/?page_id=4405 (accessed December 1, 2019)

[39] “Article 34. State Control and Supervision over Compliance with Labor Legislation, Collective Contracts: State control and supervision over adherence of employers to the regulatory provisions of the labor legislation, other normative legal acts containing norms of labor law and collective contracts, shall be exercised by State Labor Inspectorate and other institutions in cases established by law.” 2004 Labor Code of the Republic of Armenia.

[40] US Department of Labor. https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/government-armenia-dol-official-response (accessed December 1, 2019).

[41] Ibid.

[42] “Comparative Analysis of the Armenian Labour Law and EU Standards,” Human Rights Defender of the Republic of Armenia in cooperation with the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Ad-hoc Public Report, Yerevan, 2019, p. 4.

[43] Labor Code Article 262.

[44] “Comparative Analysis of the Armenian Labour Law and EU Standards,” Human Rights Defender of the Republic of Armenia in cooperation with the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Ad-hoc Public Report, Yerevan, 2019, p 5.

[45] Judgment in Case C84/94, op. cit., para 15.

[46] “Comparative Analysis of the Armenian Labour Law and EU Standards,” Human Rights Defender of the Republic of Armenia in cooperation with the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Ad-hoc Public Report, Yerevan, 2019, p 19.

[47] See: https://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:12100:0::NO::P12100_ILO_CODE:R081

[48] Interview with Head of Department for Health Care and Security of Employees – Ashot Harutyunyan and Chief Officer of Department for Health Care and Security of Employees – Alvard Arshakyan, June 26, 2019.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Interview with Heriknaz Tigranyan, Member of the National Assembly of Armenia and Committee Deputy Chair of the Standing Committee on Health Care and Social Affairs, January 27, 2019.

[51]Ombudsman of the Republic of Armenia. http://www.ombuds.am/resources/ombudsman/uploads/files/legislation/0f30a8196c4c214a6e22b03e753d8cde.pdf (accessed July 10, 2019).

[52] Author interview, Janna Simonyan, July 12, 2019.

[53] “Comparative Analysis of the Armenian Labour Law and EU Standards,” Human Rights Defender of the Republic of Armenia in cooperation with the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Ad-hoc Public Report, Yerevan, 2019.

[54] 2004 Labor Code of the Republic of Armenia Article 3(8).

[55] Labor Code 2004 of RA Article 101.

[56] “Comparative Analysis of the Armenian Labour Law and EU Standards,” Human Rights Defender of the Republic of Armenia in cooperation with the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Ad-hoc Public Report, Yerevan, 2019, p. 9.

[57] EU directive 1999/70/EC; Clause 5.

[58] See: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/GA/TXT/?uri=CELEX:31999L0070

[59] Article 101(2) of the RA Labor Code.

[60] Article 101(3) of the RA Labor Code repealed by HO-117-N of 24 June 2010.

[61] Article 164(2) of the RA Labor Code.

[62] See: https://www.president.am/en/constitution-2015/.

[63] 2004 Labor Code of the Republic of Armenia Article 3(1).

[64] See: https://armenia.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/pub-pdf/Gender-Gap-UNFPA-brief-final.pdf

[65] See: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:32002L0073:EN:HTML.

[66] See: https://www.dol.gov/sites/default/files/documents/ilab/Armenia.pdf

[67] See: https://www.dol.gov/sites/default/files/documents/ilab/Armenia.pdf

[68] Ibid.

[69] Author interview with Head of Department for Health Care and Security of Employees – Ashot Harutyunyan and Chief Officer of Department for Health Care and Security of Employees – Alvard Arshakyan, June 26, 2019.

[70] See: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:12012P/TXT&from=EN

[71] Article 1(1)(a) of the Directive 92/56/EEC available at: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:31998L0059&from=EN.

[72] Directive 92/56/EEC available at: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:31998L0059&from=EN.

[73] Article 2(2) EU Directive 92/56/EEC available at: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:31998L0059&from=EN.

[74] Article 3 EU Directive 92/56/EEC available at: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:31998L0059&from=EN.

[75] RA Constitution, Article 45, available online at: https://www.president.am/en/constitution-2015/.

[76] Article 21 of the RA Labor Code, available online at: http://www.translation-centre.am/pdf/Translat/HH_Codes/Labour_code_en.pdf.

[77] Nazaretian, Tiruhi A. and Tilman Alexander Busch, “Armenian Trade Unions – Problems and Challenges”, the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Study, February 2017.

[78] Article 16, 2000 Law on Trade Unions, available online at: https://www.ilo.org/dyn/natlex/docs/MONOGRAPH/70277/108271/F928178087/ARM70277%20Eng.pdf.

[79] “Collective Labor Rights Protection Mechanisms in Armenia Research Report”, Advanced Public Research Group NGO, Working Document, Yerevan, 2019, p. 13.

[80] Article 74 of the RA Labor Code, available online at: http://www.translation-centre.am/pdf/Translat/HH_Codes/Labour_code_en.pdf.

[81] Interview with Ruben Sargsyan, Chairman at Advanced Public Research Group (APR) group, July 1, 2019.

[82] RA Labor Code; available online at: http://www.translation-centre.am/pdf/Translat/HH_Codes/Labour_code_en.pdf.

[83] Directive 89/391/EEC – OSH “Framework Directive”, 12 June 1989, available online at: https://osha.europa.eu/en/legislation/directives/the-osh-framework-directive/1.

[84] Interview with Head of Department for Health Care and Security of Employees – Ashot Harutyunyan and Chief Officer of Department for Health Care and Security of Employees – Alvard Arshakyan, June 26, 2019.

[85] Convention concerning Minimum Wage Fixing, with Special Reference to Developing Countries (Entry into force: 29 Apr 1972) Adoption: Geneva, 54th ILC session (22 Jun 1970).

[86] See: https://haydzayn.com/en/page/minimalynaa-potrebitelyskaa-korzina-v-armenii-virosla-na-6-4.

[87] See: https://www.ilo.org/global/standards/subjects-covered-by-international-labour-standards/social-security/lang–en/index.htm.

[88] Article 29 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights of 2000, available online at: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/charter/pdf/text_en.pdf.

[89] See: https://www.e-draft.am/projects/1190/about.

[90] See: http://www.mlsa.am/?p=19529.

[91] Annual Communique on the Activities of the Human Rights Defender of the Republic of Armenia, and the State of Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms during the Year 2017, 2018., pp. 76-88 // Available at http://www.ombuds.am/resources/ombudsman/uploads/ les/publications/b5220dd0b83b420a5ab8bb037a1e02ca.pdf

[92] Interview with Heriknaz Tigranyan, January 27, 2019.

[93] Interview with Heriknaz Tigranyan, January 27, 2019.

[94] Interview with Ruben Sarkisyan, July 1, 2019.

[95] Interview with Ruben Sargsyan, Chairman at Advanced Public Research Group (APR) group, July 1, 2019.

[96] “Collective Labor Rights Protection Mechanisms in Armenia Research Report”, Advanced Public Research Group NGO, Working Document, Yerevan, 2019.

[97] “Report on Armenian Trade Unions: Problems Challenges and Needs,” APR Group Report, Yerevan 2010.

[98] “Collective Labor Rights Protection Mechanisms in Armenia Research Report”, Advanced Public Research Group NGO, Working Document, Yerevan, 2019, p. 20.

[99] See: https://www.dol.gov/sites/default/files/documents/ilab/Armenia.pdf.

[100] See: https://www.dol.gov/sites/default/files/documents/ilab/Armenia.pdf.

[101] Interview with Head of Department for Health Care and Security of Employees – Ashot Harutyunyan and Chief Officer of Department for Health Care and Security of Employees – Alvard Arshakyan, June 26, 2019.

[102] See: https://www.dol.gov/sites/default/files/documents/ilab/Armenia.pdf.

[103] The National Archives, “1833 Factory Act”. https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/1833-factory-act/ (accessed December 1, 2019).

[104] Anderson A., Wright C. (1911). “Labour Legislation”. In Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. https://archive.org/stream/Encyclopaediabri16chisrich_201303/encyclopaediabri16chisrich_djvu.txt.

[105]  History of the International Labour Organization, URL: https://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/history/lang–en/index.htm .

[106] Mapping of Syrian Armenians in the Regions of Armenia and their Needs (SyRAD), Analytical Report, CRRC – Armenia Foundation, Yerevan, 2019.

[107] Article 91(2) of the RA Labor Code.

[108] Electronic Register of the Government of Armenia: https://www.e-register.am/am/search

[109] Habitat for Humanity, “Beneficial impacts of homeownership: A research summary.” http://www.habitatbuilds.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Benefits-of-Homeownership-Research-Summary.pdf (accessed on December 1, 2019).

[110] Eric S. Belsky, Nicholas P. Retsinas and Mark Duda-Joint Center for Housing Studies (Harvard University), “The financial Return to Low-Income Homeownership,” 2005. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/82af/14f3557f5858d1b4dfbd8f575688988fa972.pdf (accessed on December 1, 2019).

[111] Affordable Housing for Young Families Program. http://www.gov.am/files/meetings/2010/4533.pdf