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Health workers in Azerbaijan protest ‘exploitation’

25 February 2021
Health workers holding a protest in front of a state-run COVID-19 hospital in Baku. Photo via Facebook.

Health workers have held a protest in front of a state-run COVID-19 hospital in Baku demanding unpaid salaries as well as remuneration for days-off they claim to have been deprived of.

Footage taken by Meydan TV outside the Modular Hospital under the Ministry of Emergency Situations on 23 February shows about 20 workers, including doctors, nurses, and other hospital workers.

The protesters claimed that although their labour contracts included 20 working hours a week, health insurance, and day-offs during weekends, they had been forced to work 60 hours a week with no insurance, day-offs, or food for the past 9 months.

Abbas Baghirov, a hospital porter, told Meydan TV that he had not received a salary since December. 

‘The management isn’t providing any information. We have worked very hard during the pandemic, yet we never got the health insurance mentioned in our contracts. The president has signed a decree to award all health workers fighting the pandemic, yet we were not.’

‘On 7 July the hospital has been given into exploitation, since 10 July I have been working here, and my contract was signed on 22 July. It was mentioned since the work is very hard we were supposed to work for 4 hours, yet in fact, we worked for 8 hours. We worked throughout weekends and nobody remunerated us for this.’ 

Baghirov claimed that the workers had previously been provided with accommodation in the Athletes’ Village, but were now being evicted without reason. According to him, money was unofficially deducted from their monthly wages of ₼1,102 ($650) for the labour fund and clothing for work.

Another worker complained that some contracts had been cancelled after the employees refused to give half of their salaries to the head of the service support group, Rufat Valiyev. 

‘Although my contract is active at the E-gov.az and My.gov.az on-line portals, we are not being allowed into the area’, one worker said. 

One of the protestors, Mammadov Samir, described his responsibilities as supplying patients with medicines, aiding patients in their movement, carrying oxygen balloons and furniture, and other manual labour as needed. 

‘They can’t treat us like this, there are no jobs during the pandemic. There is nobody to come out and confront us here in person. Our next step will be suing the company’, Mammadov told Meydan TV.

Firuz Alikhanov, another hospital porter confirmed the complaint saying that he could take an unpaid day-off only once a month, and had to write an explanation to his employer to do so. 

Ali Aghayev, who was a nurse in the hospital, told Meydan TV that many of them had been infected with the coronavirus, yet they never received the health insurance they were promised. 

‘We were told that the conditions in the contract differ from what they are offering, and if we don’t like it we can leave. Last month about 600 employees were released from their duties without any warning’, said Aghayev. 

‘Workers in Azerbaijan don’t know their rights’

Gulchin Mehdiyeva, the chief spokesperson for the Ministry of Emergency Situations, told Meydan TV that there were ‘minor challenges’ with the budget. 

‘Very soon all of the salaries will be transferred to their accounts. There were no workers hired without contracts. Violations of contracts are also not possible since the working process is based on work shifts’, she said. 

Workers confronted Mehdiyeva demanding she provide CCTV recordings from within the hospital that would prove that they had worked during the weekends, but Mehdiyeva left the area after making her statement. 

Azer Guliyev, a legal expert from the Organisation for the Protection of Oil Workers’ Rights, told OC Media that according to Azerbaijan’s labour code, employees can work for a maximum of 40 hours a week before being entitled to double pay if they work overtime. 

‘No kind of payment can be deducted involuntarily from their salaries besides those that are indicated in the contract. If workers are signing papers for unpaid leave, there is no violation of the law, in case they are claiming they were forced to, it has to be proven somehow’, said Guliyev. 

According to Guliyev, if labour contracts include health insurance, especially insurance against accidents at work, like a COVID-19 infection, they have the right to demand care coverage from their employer. 

‘Unfortunately, workers in Azerbaijan don’t know their rights and so this becomes an issue for them while providing services’, he concluded.

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