On January 21, the Ministry of Economy of the Republic of Armenia published in the draft bill into the “E-Draft” public discussion titled “Amendments to Holidays and Memorial Days Act”, which proposes to cancel most of the New Year and Christmas holidays.
Today, the Union of State, Local Government and Public Service Employees of Armenia (USLGPSEA) published its remarks and negative opinion on the draft bill.
The draft compares two categories: public holidays and annual leave. Holidays (and Memorial Days) are days chosen to commemorate and celebrate an event or tradition of public, national, cultural, religious, historical, or state significance. The proclamation of those days by the state is aimed to give honor to the cultural and national content related to a particular day, by state. Public holidays are declared not to give employees a paid leave, but driven by the above-mentioned logic. There are many holidays in the Republic of Armenia and days of special significance, which are still working days. Only a small part of the holidays in a year is considered a day-off because they have a more important cultural and public significance. The draft bill proposes to eliminate the most important holidays in terms of both local and world culture, including the New Year, which historically and traditionally includes New Year’s Eve in most countries of the world, which is celebrated on December 31, and by the way, is a day-off in several dozen countries. In Armenia, as in other post-Soviet countries, the New Year is celebrated extremely widely. It is known that the Soviet Union pursued an anti-religious and deculturization policy, which is why it attached great importance to the New Year, to shift out the significance of Christmas. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, these traditions are still preserved. In many cases, the New Year holiday is more widely used in Armenia than the Christmas holidays. According to the Act adopted on December 10, 2009, New Year and Christmas holidays were declared public holidays. It also returned the importance of birth of Jesus, which is celebrated by all the Christian nations of the world. With that law, Armenia joined the whole Christian world and began to celebrate the Christmas days. And the duration of the holidays was set from 31 December to 7 January for a very simple reason․ With that decision, the Republic of Armenia set a goal to reaffirm the importance of Christmas and integrate it into the public consciousness.
It is now proposed to return to the old culture and eliminate the pre-Christmas holidays, which include one of the most important days of the year – Christmas Eve. In more than 40 countries in the Christian world, the Eve (December 24) is not only the most important holiday of the year but also a day-off. Even in many non-Christian countries, Christmas Eve is celebrated, because Christmas has long been a cultural phenomenon and an integral part of modern civilization. The day after Christmas is celebrated in thirty countries in the European region as Boxing day, and it is often a day-off, with the meaning similar to the Armenian post-Christmas “memorial day”. By eliminating the integrity of the Christmas and New Year holidays, Armenia is removed from the international community and deprived of cultural, religious, and Christian identity.
For economic reasons, we consider it irresponsible to eliminate the holidays that have historically become an inseparable part of the national life and culture, as well as the holidays that ensure Armenia’s belonging to the international community.
It should be noted that holidays do not appear or disappear only by legislation. The public will continue to celebrate New Year’s Eve, New Yera, Christmas Day, which are an important part of culture, even if they would be officially working days. It will simply lead to additional complications in the labour relationships, and the efficiency of the work will not increase, if not the opposite.
In the justification of the draft bill it is explained, that “the number of paid leave days provided to the citizen of the Republic of Armenia exceeds the number of paid leave days available in the most developed countries.” However, in the same way, the mentioned number does not exceed the number of other, not less developed and developing countries. Armenia is not a leader at all in the number of paid leave days, it is somewhere in the middle of the chart. Therefore, this argument is not convincing.
The justification of the draft bill it is explained, that the existence of holidays has an impact on the implementation of contractual obligations with local and foreign partner organizations. Such assertion is manipulative. There are many holidays in all countries of the world, in most countries at least once a year they celebrate longer holidays. Thus, in the countries of the European Union, in the Western world, in other Christian countries, from the Christmas Eve (December 24, 25 և 26) to the new Year Holidays (December 31, January 1 և 2) are actual public holidays, even if officially December 27, 28, 29 and 30 are not marked as day-off. Internal or collective agreements provide not less than 10 days off, for example, in the public administration of European countries. January 1-8 are holidays in the Russian Federation, which is part of the EEU region and has the most trade and partnership agreements with Armenia. In China, which is one of the three main trading partners of Armenia, the Chinese New Year is celebrated for at least a week in January or February; those days are non-working days. The same can be said about Nowruz, celebrated in Iran (another main partner of Armenia) in March and Golden Week celebrated in Japan in May. Many Middle Eastern countries have weekends not on weekends, as we do, but on Fridays and Saturdays. Each country has its own sovereignty, its own culture, and national holidays, which do not coincide with other countries; they are not defined by international treaties, world financial flows, or foreign trade. The Republic of Armenia should not cancel its most important holidays in order to comply with some world labor agenda, especially since there is no such thing. In addition, in civilized, literate societies, it is customary to perform the functions of labor relations and international partnerships on weekdays and to respect other’s holidays and culture. This draft bill, as always, tries to put the global problems related to the business world on the employees.
By the same logic, working hours can be set to 24 hours, because in other countries there are different time zones, their business day does not coincide with our working hours.
Holidays lasting several days have a positive effect, as they allow employees to spend their holidays with their families, to travel, and enjoy leisure and entertainment services. When the amended “Holidays and Memorial Days Act” was adopted on December 10, 2009 and December 31 to January 7 was defined as holidays, Armenian hotels, guest-houses and resorts began to offer New Year vacation packages, which significantly boosted domestic tourism. It is obvious that canceling the mentioned public holidays will have a negative impact on that sector as well. It should be taken into account that the holidays allow employees to recharge, and work more efficiently in the future.
The project refers to the GDP generated by the sectors of the economy, which estimates the volume of daily output of the sectors during January. The justification with such a methodology is superficial, as it assumes that the mentioned economic sectors generate output only on buiness days. Meanwhile, the largest of these sectors, trade and services, as well as a number of industries (such as the food industry), operate on non-buiness days. Moreover, these sectors usually work on a larger scale on non-business days, taking into account that the aggregate demand for leisure, entertainment, hotel and restaurant spheres increases due to the holidays. Due to the New Year holidays, the volume of output of the mentioned sectors of the economy (trade, services) also significantly increases in December. The same goes for foreign trade. A comprehensive analysis of the above is not made in the draft bill. Many industries work regardless of business days, such as energy, telecommunications, public and community services (including transportation), medical services, trade, service, online and digital services. Thus, convincing analysis of the fact that non-business days have a significant negative impact on the economy is not given. The draft bill attempts to makes significant on the social, labor, cultural and domestic rights of the population and workers, but is based on approximate and superficial assumptions.
According to thе justification of the draft bill, in case of cancellation of the holidays, 5 additional working days will be added to the year. However, this statement does not correspond to reality, as two days a week are always days off (Saturday և Sunday). During 2021 – 2031 decade, in case of cancellation of the above-mentioned holidays, 5 working days will be added only for two years. In most years, only three working days will be added, and only twice – 4 days. Thus, for ten years, with this draft bill, only 3․6 working days will be added to a year in average. The calculations made by the authors of draft do not correspond to reality.
On 2020 the tripartite national agreement was signed between Prime Minsiter, Confederation of Trade Unions and the Association of Employers. The agreement defines, that any draft bills that relate significantly to the labour relations and labour rights have to be discussed with social partners through a tripartite committee. However, this did not happen. Teh principle of social dialogue and democracy is violated. Despite the leadership of Armenia, which came to power through the Velvet revolution, often proclaim to be democratic, in reality, the democracy is continuously violated, and the laws are initiated in a secretive and authoritarian manner.
The need of the draft bill project is justified only in terms of pure economic statistics and the percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), out of context and not related to many other important indicators. Such an approach is not relevant. Since the 1970s, the relation between economic growth and the growth of individuals’ incomes has been damaged. GDP reflects only the results created by economic sectors, but ignores many other indicators that are essential for the development of the state and the improvement of public life. The data on socio-economic progress, good governance, human development, non-traditional economic activity, gig economy, informal employment, unequal distribution of income, and, finally, the harmful effects of economic activity are excluded from the calculation of GDP. While the mentioned indicators are much more important in the process of understanding the level of economic development than the statistical numbers given out-of-context. For this reason, other descriptive values have been used in recent decades to assess the level of real economic development, such as the Human Development Index (HDI), the Human Capital Index (HCI), and the Social Progress Index (SPI). The economy does not solve any vital issue on its own, moreover, according to a number of economic theories, the focus on purely economic growth will only lead to an increase of inequality. In the modern world, the role of the state is to ensure, first of all, a quality, viable economy, it will serve the public interest, and not just ensure the growth of quantitative indicators of the economy. The ultimate goal of the government should be the creation of a prosperous, just society, which will be economically progressive, stable, and will provide the citizens with a meaningful quality of life. Thus, out-of-context economic indicators and GDP growth rates in the real world have almost nothing to do with the quality of life of the average statistical citizen;
In Armenia, according to the International Monetary Fund, the informal economy is 36%, which is one of the highest in the CIS. Informal employment in Armenia reaches 46% according to the World Bank published in the 2019 report. Besides, Armenia is one of the “leaders” in the world in terms of unemployment and poverty levels. The concept of a living wage has not been defined in the Republic of Armenia so far, there is no principle of setting the minimum wage. There are no mechanisms in place to control the labor relations, and as a result, large number of employees are not properly using their annual leave. The working hours defined by the Labor Act are not followed, and overtime payments are not made. We do not even touch on such phenomena as precarious work. These are important indicators in the context of having an economically developed state, the elimination of these problems will significantly increase both economic indicators and state revenues. Leaving aside these problems, the government tries to solve economic problems by adding three and a half working days to the year, which, again, serves the interests of dews at the expense of working people. This is an unprofessional approach.