Armenia’s parliament approved on Tuesday a modest increase in the national minimum wage proposed by the government and dismissed as insignificant by its opposition minority.
Under a relevant bill passed by the National Assembly, the minimum monthly wage will rise from 30,000 to 32,500 drams ($90) starting from next January.
The figure will still be well below the cost of the official minimum consumer basket that currently stands at 41,500 drams. The Armenian government had pledged to gradually raise the minimum wage to that level by 2012.
Hakob Hakobian, the chairman of the parliament committee on social affairs, said last year’s economic recession called that objective into question. “At the moment we can not achieve that because of the economic crisis,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
The two opposition parties represented in the parliament dismissed these explanations as they pushed for a higher income threshold. One of them, Zharangutyun (Heritage), wants it to be set at 45,000 drams. “A sum can be called a wage only if it’s not below the per-capita consumer basket,” said Larisa Alaverdian, one of its parliament deputies.
The other party, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), is seeking an even sharper increase that would ban state and private employers from paying their workers less than 55,000 drams a month. Artsvik Minasian, a Dashnaktsutyun deputy, said it will circulate a corresponding bill in the coming days.
Both the government and its loyal parliament majority have made clear that they will block the opposition initiatives which they say would put a heavy burden on public finances and the private sector. Hakobian also argued that public sector employees across Armenia already no less than 40,000 drams a month.
Speaking to RFE/RL, Minasian claimed that the government could double the state budget if it pursued “correct economic policies.” He specifically called for a genuine government crackdown on the informal sector of the Armenian economy and other manifestations of tax evasion.
According to the National Statistical Service (NSS), the country’s average monthly wage rose by 8 percent to just over 106,000 drams ($295) in the first nine months of this year. The increase was effectively nullified by higher-than-expected consumer price inflation.