Given that, according to official statistics, 55% of Azerbaijanis are employed by the state, this makes a significant part of the population vulnerable to any cutbacks caused by budgetary constraints. Even in the case of a post-oil economy, Garayev added, the growth of more effective, private-led economic initiatives, primarily in agriculture, could lead to further volatility in the labour market over the next 20 years. “This implies that job insecurity will certainly increase resulting in brain drain, redistribution of income, and stress-related health conditions,” concluded the consultant.
This insecurity is compounded by the fact that workers have little recourse when they lose their jobs.
Nadir Gasimov’s story is an illustrative example. Until he was dismissed in December 2017, the 56 year old had worked for a locomotive depot in the city of Ganja since the age of 16. As a result of cutbacks, Gasimov was dismissed in December 2017. He considers it an injustice.
“Despite my 40 years of work on the railways, I was fired. When cuts began two years ago, the management kept newcomers and fired longtime experienced employees which created discontent,” he explained.
It can be difficult for most workers, but particularly older workers such as Gasimov, to start from scratch. After all, a major part of the country’s revenue comes from a single industry which employs only a handful of the population. “The non-oil sector is very small and heavily dependent on government support. As it’s not competitive, salaries are not negotiated [...] The weakly functioning trade unions and justice system do not provide sufficient legal protection to keep workers from being exploited, abused, or fired,” explains Garayev.
The country’s weak tradition of independent trade unions give workers little hope of resource. Although Azerbaijan joined the International Labour Organisation in 1992, there is little to suggest that that will change. In January 2018, unemployment benefit was replaced by a new concept of “unemployment insurance,” which is paid to workers who lose their jobs as a result of the liquidation of an enterprise or if they are registered as unemployed with their local employment centre. This essentially means that workers whose contracts expire and are not renewed are not eligible for state support; in a country where the minimum monthly salary is 250 manat ($147) and the average salary is 581 manat ($341) that doesn’t leave many Azerbaijanis with savings to survive on.
So while Garayev argues that the country’s labour code is progressive, he also stresses that it is not strictly adhered to by small enterprises. “Considering the immense share of the shadow economy, the situation is even worse. Having said these, there are positive steps towards transparency and some have started bearing fruits [...] for example, the ministry of taxes and finance have been promoting the formalisation of the labour market, aiming at the protection of employees.”
Over the past two years, Gasimov, says that he has made multiple appeals to the authorities over his dismissal, which has caused him financial and emotional hardship. Despite his membership in the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (NAP), his voice has gone unheard. “I spent my years, and my health working on the railways, and put my trust in the NAP. But I’m left unemployed; at my age, nobody will hire me anywhere else,” he sighs.