TBY talks to Fizuli Alakbarov, Minister of Labor and Social Protection, on the work of his ministry in improving living standards for the Azerbaijani people and job-creation efforts.
TBY What have been some of the main challenges you have faced since becoming Minister of Labor and Social Protection?
FIZULI ALAKBAROV Azerbaijan has made significant progress in this field in its 20 years of independence. Improving the social welfare of the people was one of the integral parts of the state government process toward establishing a powerful economy. Social welfare is one of the key indicators that Azerbaijan has passed into a new stage of economic quality and has completed its economic transition to modernity. As a result of our economic prosperity, the standard of living across all levels of society has improved. Naturally, this process requires a new approach to social policy. First of all, we are working to improve the effectiveness of social protection measures for the welfare of low-income families.
What is the Ministry doing to alleviate poverty?
We expect to eradicate poverty completely in Azerbaijan by 2015. The poverty level came down 9% in 2010. Our strategy is centered on job creation. Over the past seven years we have opened more than 900,000 workplaces, extended the labor capability of our population, and worked to ensure an increase in income. We also have a social aid program that is monitored by the World Bank. This program certainly plays an important role in welfare, but our main target is to help people provide for themselves. For this, we are establishing an information bank so we can analyze why and who needs aid. We have already started a self-support project. First of all, this project looked at 15 families living in a village that received cash to generate incomes. It was determined that family poverty is caused when family members do not meet the requirements of the contemporary labor market. In that respect, our purpose is to prepare and implement various active support programs.
How have labor laws changed to meet the needs of a modern economy over the past two decades?
Rapid economic development leads to a more advanced workforce that needs modern protection under labor legislation. The Azerbaijan government has a responsibility to improve and protect the welfare of each citizen. Everyone has the right to work in safe and healthy conditions and earn no less than the minimum wage set by the state. We are working with international partners and the World Bank to develop a five-year activity plan within the boundaries of the Social Protection Development Project, which will play a great role in developing and implementing labor legislation, labor protection, and the establishment of health and safety labor conditions in workplaces. Under the law, workers are entitled to paid leave not less than 21 calendar days at least once a year, and the working day should not be more than eight hours. By assuming these provisions as basic, legislation in the labor and employment fields is improving constantly according to the process of economic prosperity. Our law on compulsory insurance related to losing working capacity as the result of accidents came into force in 2010 and plays an important role in paying fees to the families of deceased workers and people who cannot work following accidents. Azerbaijan is a country stepping toward establishing a democratic society with confidence, and our country implements active partnerships with reliable international bodies in the field of providing human rights and liberties, including labor rights. Conventions and recommendations guided by higher democratic and humanist values have been ratified by Azerbaijan and this is represented in our national labor legislation. From this point of view, I consider that our national labor legislation conforms to contemporary requirements in the field of business.
What is your Ministry doing to improve the level of workplace skills and provide opportunities for the retraining of citizens in new professions?
We look to develop the working capacities of the labor force for a contemporary labor market. Training programs based on the needs of the labor market are gaining strength year by year. Regional Trade Teaching Centers have been established in several regions in recent years, and possess the necessary material and technical basis with regard to organizing proper courses. We have also organized trade courses for invalids, particularly blind citizens, and help is provided to integrate students and graduating seniors into the labor market. We also provide career advice services for high school pupils. Generally, the main purpose of the reform process in labor relations and employment in our country is to strategically develop labor resources in order to increase local employment levels. In recent years, economic prosperity reforms, including the establishment of new workplaces, mostly in the regions, have caused tensions in the labor market. With regards to the settlement employment problem, it appears that there is an efficient opportunity to employ the labor potential and businesses of rural citizens. The state program gives an opportunity to provide the settlement of important challenges in the labor and employment field. Using this opportunity, the Labor Inspectorate Service under the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection of the Population, in partnership with employers, takes active measures to provide beneficial employment to unemployed persons and those who are looking for work.
What measures are being taken in the direction of adapting the labor force to international requirements?
Azerbaijan’s economy is actively integrating into the world economic arena. We are establishing a transparent business environment that has resulted in significant foreign investment flows. As expected, this process makes it inevitable that our local labor force will adapt to international standards. A good example is our construction industry. There are many new infrastructure projects and establishments being built. If you look across Baku, or several regions of the country at present, you can see how standards are being met. If you take into account that local citizens play a great role in executing these works as the main labor force, then our labor force is working according to international standards.
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