A young teacher has been controversially fired from an Armenian village school in what he considers retribution for his decision to opt out of a new pension system currently introduced by the government.
Tigran Sargsian taught mathematics and computer science at the secondary school in Zovasar, a village 80 kilometers north of Yerevan, until the end of the last academic year. The official reason for his dismissal announced last week is absenteeism.
Sargsian on Monday described his ouster as illegal and said he will challenge it in court. “The principal considered me a threat because I raised many uncomfortable issues, including a request not to withhold [additional] pension contributions from my salary,” he said. He said none of a dozen or so of his colleagues affected by the reform dared to follow suit.
The teacher referred to Armenia’s ongoing transition to the new system that requires workers born after 1973 to save for retirement with social security contributions equivalent to 5 percent of their gross wages. The Armenian government and parliament made the reform optional last month after it was declared unconstitutional by the country’s highest court.
On paper, workers can now avoid switching to the new retirement plan if they lodge corresponding applications with their employers. Very few public sector employees have chosen to do that so far.
Dem Em, a pressure group campaigning against the pension reform, says that many workers fear losing their jobs. Reports in the Armenian media have given weight to these allegations.
The Zovasar school chief, Albert Sargsian, denied any connection between the sacking and the pension controversy. “That’s not what he was fired for. What he says is slanderous,” he said of his fired employee.
However, Levon Harutiunian, a Dem Em campaigner, found the teacher’s version of events credible. He said many workers covered by the reform have been warned by their superiors against asking for exemptions.
Harutiunian urged young Armenians unhappy with the reform to defy such pressure. “People need to realize that if they don’t fight for their rights nobody will,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
The Armenian government has denied instructing the heads of public sector institutions to enforce the reform at any cost.