YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Opposition leaders accused the Armenian government on Tuesday of backtracking on its pledge to stop enforcing an unpopular pension reform that was effectively overturned by the Constitutional Court almost a month ago.
They strongly criticized a revised government bill which was supposed to make the reform optional for workers aged 40 and younger. The Armenian parliament is due to start debating it on Wednesday.
The bill was submitted to the National Assembly anew following last week’s meeting between Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian and leaders of the parliament’s opposition minority. Abrahamian assured them that it will be revised to ensure a “de facto suspension of the mandatory component” of the reform which he promised shortly after being appointed as prime minister earlier this month.
According to Artsvik Minasian, a parliament deputy from the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), the proposed amendments to a law on retirement benefits still would not abolish mandatory deductions of additional social security contributions from workers’ wages. He said they would only reverse penalties imposed on employers refusing to withhold those sums and transfer them to private pension funds.
“We categorically reject this approach,” Minasian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “We must therefore continue our fight,” he said, adding that Dashnaktsutyun and three other opposition parties will likely press ahead with their plans to draft an alternative bill.
Labor and Social Affairs Minister Artem Asatrian insisted, meanwhile, that Abrahamian’s cabinet is making good on his pledge. He said workers will be able to choose between the existing and new pension systems.
Despite these assurances, several dozen schoolteachers covered by the reform rallied outside the Ministry of Science and Education in Yerevan on Tuesday in protest against what they said is its continuing enforcement by the authorities. They cited an April 23 directive by Education Minister Armen Ashotian requiring school administrations to continue the controversial deductions equivalent to 5 percent of their modest gross wages.
Chanting “Shame!” the protesters threatened to go on strike if Ashotian does not meet them and address their concerns. “We are not demanding high-level positions, luxury cars or villas from you. That’s your monopoly,” one of the protesters appealed to him through a megaphone. “We are demanding [full payment of] our meager salaries earned by hard work.”
Ashotian refused to come out of the building and talk to the protesting teachers. His chief of staff told them that the minister is ready to receive their representatives in his office. They rejected the offer.
Ashotian said earlier in the day that disgruntled teachers can opt out of the new system. He said they only need to lodge corresponding written requests with school principals.