In what it portrayed as a concession to the opposition, the Armenian government pushed through the parliament on Tuesday a bill allowing workers not to be covered by its unpopular reform of the national pension system.
The bill taking the form of amendments to an Armenian law on retirement benefits stems from last month’s Constitutional Court ruling that declared the reform unconstitutional. The court gave the authorities until September 30 to bring it into conformity with the constitution. In the meantime, it said, the authorities can continue forcing workers aged 40 and younger to transfer sums equivalent to 5 percent of their gross wages to private pension funds.
This caveat triggered fresh street protests by thousands of such workers opposed to the Western-backed reform. Armenia’s four main opposition parties backed those protests and pledged to come up with an alternative bill that would explicitly halt the country’s transition to a new retirement system.
Shortly after his appointment last month, Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian assured the critics that his cabinet will make the reform optional. The resulting amendments were passed in the first reading by 68 members of the 131-seat National Assembly, virtually all of them representing the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).
Deputies from the Prosperous Armenia (BHK) and Dashnaktsutyun parties abstained in the vote, calling the government bill a positive but insufficient step forward. The two other, more radical opposition parties, the Armenian National Congress (HAK) and Zharangutyun, rejected it out of hand.
Levon Zurabian, the HAK’s parliamentary leader, claimed that the government will now quietly ensure that most public and private employers force their workers born after 1973 not to opt out of the reform. Employees defying such orders will risk dismissal, he said.
“In essence, they are exempting only several thousand active citizens from this mandatory captivity,” Zurabian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). He said the opposition minority in the assembly should therefore go ahead with plans for an emergency parliament session on the alternative pension bill.