YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The Armenian government pledged on Thursday to find new jobs for most of the more than 260 former employees of the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry who were controversially laid off last month.
The lay-offs resulted from a government decision to liquidate a ministry division tasked with delivering pensions to hundreds of thousands of elderly Armenians. Starting from this month, the latter are to receive pensions from post office workers or have them transferred to their bank accounts.
Many of the laid-off staff took to the streets of Yerevan late last month to condemn the decision and demand its reversal. About two dozen of them gathered outside the main government on Thursday during a weekly session of Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan’s cabinet. Sarkisian raised the matter with Labor and Social Affairs Minister Artur Grigorian.
Grigorian assured him that at least 70 dismissed workers will be offered employment at the Haypost national postal service, which is managed by a private company belonging to an Argentine businessman of Armenian descent. “Haypost has already started job interviews with applicants and signed employment contracts with 15 of them,” he told the prime minister and fellow cabinet members.
Grigorian added that banks and other finance companies involved in pension payment are “interested” in hiring dozens of other fired staff. He also pledged to liquidate severance pay debts totaling 73.7 million drams ($203,000). “In the coming days, the money will be paid to the dismissed individuals,” he said.
The protesters dismissed the employment pledges. “We have been hearing such promises for a month,” one woman told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “This is a lie. We don’t believe them.”
She and other protesters insisted that Haypost has not hired anyone. “I went to Haypost but was told that there are no vacancies and that I will be informed when positions become vacant,” said one of them.
Grigorian sought to reassure them after the government meeting. “I am convinced that most of the people will get new jobs,” he said.
The liquidation of the Labor Ministry division also sparked chaos in the payment of pensions this month, with Haypost struggling to cope with its new task. Lines of pensioners waiting for their modest monthly benefits could be seen at various post offices in Yerevan. According to the ministry, about 4,000 pensioners have still not been paid for January.
Sarkisian complained about “problems with payment of payments.” “There have been queues in post offices and legitimate complaints from pensioners,” he told Grigorian.
“We are concerned about that,” replied the minister. “Now appropriate analyses are being done to identify reasons and solve the existing problems.” The situation will improve markedly next month, he said.