YEREVAN -- Armenian opposition politicians and civil rights activists have expressed concern over a government plan to liberalize the country's labor laws, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.
The National Assembly passed a package of government-drafted amendments to the labor code in the first reading last week. They would allow for verbal employment contracts and the formation of employee associations that could presumably overturn decisions made by labor unions.
The amendments would also loosen provisions regulating compensation for overtime and overnight work. The government has admitted the changes largely respond to the wishes of entrepreneurs.
Armenia's current labor code includes strong worker protections. Nevertheless, businesses have been accused of flouting rules prohibiting the arbitrary dismissal of workers.
Parliament deputy Artsvik Minasian, from the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), said at a roundtable on the issue that the labor package shows "that employers' interests are taking precedence over employees' interests."
Minasian, a trained economist, specifically objected to provisions allowing the existence of alternative labor groups, saying they represent a threat to unions.
Stepan Hayrapetian, a government expert involved in drafting the package of amendments, argued that the few labor unions operating in Armenia rarely challenge business owners and managers over worker rights.
"Show me a place where [unions] have protected workers' interests," Hayrapetian said. "We are trying to create competition so that they establish themselves. They don't want to establish themselves right now."
Meri Khachatrian, a lawyer at the Armenian Center For Human Rights Protection, said he opposes the introduction of verbal contracts between employers and employees. She said that would make it easier for entrepreneurs to cheat and arbitrarily fire workers.
Hayrapetian dismissed such concerns, saying that employment contracts will still have to be formalized in writing.