Protests in Azerbaijan over job losses and unpaid leave 

6 May 2020
Ustay Workers protesting. Photo credit: Meydan TV.

Despite the quarantine regime, dozens of workers in Azerbaijan protested over the last week against job losses and mandatory unpaid leave.

Dozens of workers of the Royal Park construction company held a protest on Monday in Salyan, in southern Azerbaijan, saying that the company has not paid them their wages, but has also not legally fired them. One worker told reporters that the company has held onto important tax and identification documents, preventing him from receiving state unemployment support or applying for a new job. 

‘We work for ₼30 ($18) a day, in three months they paid us for only six days of’, one worker present at the protest told reporters.  

‘I can’t withdraw my salary, because I don’t have my credit card and taxpayer ID — the company has them’, another worker said.  

Workers at the protest said that they went to the police but that they kept ‘sending’ them ‘to other police stations and other authorities’.  

This has not been the only workers’ protest in recent days. On Thursday, over 100 workers of the recently shuttered Amrahbank gathered in front of their old place of employment to protest against its closure.

The bank workers have claimed that they have not been paid their wages for the month of April. At the protest, a man who introduced himself as a representative of the bank promised workers that their salaries would be paid.

‘Additionally, I will use my personal contacts to try to provide employees with jobs in other banks’, he said. He described the decision to revoke the license of the bank as a ‘political order’.

Police officers who later arrived on the scene convinced the majority of protestors to disperse. 

On 28 April, the Central Bank announced that the management of four commercial banks was transferred to government-appointed temporary managers because of a ‘worsening’ of their financial situation. Two of the banks, Atabank and Amrah Bank, were deprived of their banking licences because they ‘suffered serious financial losses’ and have been declared bankrupt. 

Elman Rustamov, the chair of the Central Bank, said at a press conference on Friday that he ‘feels sorry’ about the closures, and added that authorities had already taken steps to pay the salaries of the workers.

He also promised to ‘try to provide’ the workers with new jobs ‘as much as possible’.

Protesting unpaid leave

On 29 April, dozens of workers of the Turkish-owned Ustay company gathered in front of the company’s head office in Baku to protest being placed on indefinite unpaid leave from that day onward.

Ustay’s most recent project has been the modernisation of the Ethylene-Polyethylene Plant of the Azerkimya Production Association, owned by the Azerbaijani state oil firm SOCAR.

Several workers told Meydan TV that only workers who had worked at the company for three to four months were told they were not eligible for paid leave, and even workers who were eligible were forcibly placed on paid ‘vacation’ and would no longer be able to use those vacation days later in the year. 

The workers also alleged that for those who continued to work their boss initially promised ‘double pay’ and threatened to fire them if they did not show up. The double pay never materialised. 

The management of Ustay company told Meydan TV that they were unaware of the workers’ problems and were unable to comment.

Mirvari Gahramanli, head of the Oil Workers Rights Protection Organisation, a labour NGO, told OC Media that according to the Labour Code of Azerbaijan, ‘it is not a violation’ of Azerbaijan’s labour law to pay workers a regular wage rate during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, any hours worked overtime would require overtime pay. 

However, she also stated that if a company sends its employees on leave, they must still continue to be paid. 

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