Corresponding amendments to the country’s Labor Code were passed in the first reading despite strong objections voiced by the parliament’s opposition minority.
The amendments will enable employers to summon their staff to work for six days a week without extra compensation. But they will still not be allowed to keep employees in the workplace for more than 40 hours a week.
The Armenian government endorsed the bill last month after three senior pro-government deputies who drafted it agreed to make a six-day working week applicable only to workers employed in several specific spheres. Among them are the healthcare, telecommunications and energy sectors.
Speaking during parliament debates on Wednesday, Labor and Social Affairs Minister Artur Grigorian said the controversial change will lead to “more flexible personnel management.” “We will retain the 40-hour work week,” he said.
But opposition lawmakers remained unconvinced, saying that the bill will benefit only big business and restrict labor rights in the country. Artsvik Minasian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) said owners of private firms operating for six days a week lobbied for such changes to avoid hiring more people or making overtime payments.
Hakob Hakobian, the main author of the amendments who heads the parliament committee on social affairs, denied that. “If we change something, it means there is a need for that,” he reasoned.
Both Hakobian and another co-sponsor of the legislation, deputy speaker Samvel Balasanian, are wealthy businessmen.
Private firms in Armenia routinely violate legal working-hour limits and other worker rights, capitalizing on high unemployment and the virtual absence of functioning trade unions. It is not uncommon for Armenians fearing arbitrary dismissal to work for ten or more hours a day and have only one day off a week.
“Let’s tell the truth and admit that even without this law, in this labor market situation, people work for six and even seven days a week,” said Larisa Alaverdian of the opposition Zharangutyun party told fellow parliamentarians. “With this law, we will legalize illegalities.”