The National Assembly on Wednesday passed in the first reading a government bill that will abolish modest benefits paid to thousands of unemployed Armenians.
According to government data, there are presently some 70,000 unemployed citizens registered with relevant divisions of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. Roughly 10,000 of them receive 18,000 drams ($45) per month from the state.
The meager sum is the reason why most jobless people in the country do not bother to be officially registered. Government estimates put their number at around 200,000.
The government said that the unemployment benefits are of little use to their recipients and should be scrapped altogether. Hakob Hakobian, the chairman of a parliament committee on social affairs, made similar arguments before the preliminary passage of the bill. He said the budgetary funds allocated for such assistance should be spent on organizing retraining courses for people unable to find jobs.
The opposition minority in the Armenian parliament categorically rejected these explanations. Opposition deputies said the government should on the contrary raise the benefits.
One of them, Artsvik Minasian, said the government measure would breach a constitutional clause stipulating that Armenia is a “social state.” Another lawmaker, Naira Zohrabian, claimed that the government wants to save money for financing sizable wage increases promised to public sector employees.
Some benefit recipients also denounced the measure, saying that even 18,000 drams has allowed them to meet some of their basic needs. “It has been quite an assistance to people like me,” said Sedrak Baghdasarian, an unemployed Yerevan resident. “At least we can pay our utility bills with that money.”