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Armenian Minimum Wage Raised

YEREVAN -- Armenia's parliament has approved an increase in the minimum wage proposed by the government that has been dismissed by the opposition as too small, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

The bill passed by the National Assembly will raise the minimum monthly wage from 30,000 to 32,500 drams ($90) starting in January.

The figure will still be below the official minimum "consumer basket" that currently stands at 41,500 drams. The government had pledged to gradually raise the minimum wage to that level by 2012.

Hakob Hakobian, chairman of the parliamentary committee on social affairs, told RFE/RL that last year's economic recession had prevented that objective from being realized.

The two opposition parties in parliament dismissed that explanation as they pushed for a higher minimum wage.

The Zharangutyun (Heritage) party 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, a Heritage deputy.

The other opposition 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 would circulate a bill on this issue in the coming days.

Both the government and its parliament majority have made it clear 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 no public-sector employees made less than 40,000 drams a month.

But Minasian told RFE/RL that the government could double the state budget if it pursued "correct economic policies." He specifically called for a real government crackdown on the informal sector of the economy and other forms of tax evasion.

According to the National Statistics Service, 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.