me, do you work here?" would sound a desperate
question of a lost customer in a Yerevan supermarket.
Often it is confusing separating the clerks from
But no more. Since April 1st the question sounds
rather: "Karine jan, can I get some help
Badges make the difference. By several changes
and additions to an Administrative Code approved
by the Armenian Parliament on December 26th last
year, authorities have spread fear among all employees
in the field of services and commerce to wear
And curiously, the new rules have had a tremendous
power. Rarely these days one can find a restaurant
or shop where workers being in contact with customers
do not wear identification badges.
This practice is a civilized way to approach
consumers but what has really alerted bosses in
the industry is the punishment they might get
if breaking the law.
It turns out that the law itself has existed
since 1997, however there was no punishment stipulated
for those who ignored it.
But as of April 1, a business owner may be fined
20,000 drams (about $35) if an employee is found
not wearing an id badge. A second offense increases
to 50,000 drams (about $90).
The offending employee will be fined 500 drams
(about 80 cents) for a first offense, doubled
if there is a second infraction.
why would the authorities care if waitresses or
barmen, whose names they can get to know during
a beer conversation anyway, wear badges? Because
what they want to catch is much more serious.
Stepan Hayrapetyan, Counselor to the President
of Social Insurance Fund, who had the initiative
to establish the badges rule, says his idea was
to fight the illegal employment in Armenia.
"These changes in the Administrative Code",
he says, "aim at pulling out the cases of
illegal use of labor force and protecting employees
from being abused."
And this is primarily the reason why the punishment
for employees is not as high as for their employers.
"Owners are responsible for legalizing the
work of their people", Hayrapetyan says,
"and they should be punished if breaking
According to statistics provided by the Social
Insurance Fund, today there are approximately
150,000 illegal employees in the field of services,
commerce and construction while the unregistered
salaries, summed up at the moment when this juridical
act was being drafted, mounted at 50 billion drams
(about $85 million).
But beyond the intention to fight the shadow
economy and protect the constitutional rights
of workers, Hayrapetyan says that collecting taxes
from the population is in particular an objective
of the administrative changes he proposed.
All those hundreds of thousands of illegal workers
mean unpaid taxes and the loss of the Social Insurance
Fund for the last year only represented 28 billion
Drams (about $48 million).
Now, what means will the authorities use to catch
the bad guys? The Social Insurance Fund will organize,
starting May 1st, regular inspections in restaurants,
bars, stores and other commercial units to verify
if persons wearing badges are officially employed.
during such visits, the inspectors will check
if employers are keeping a special record book,
called the "book of orders", where all
the information on hiring and firing people is
included. If such a register does not exist in
the employer's office, a fine of 100,000 drams
and more is imposed.
While the new rules have come into force and
workers started to wear badges, few of them perhaps
are aware of the real purpose the authorities
had in mind. Asked about wearing badges, employees
at Jupiter Photo Express say "it is civilized
and customers like it".
But making the office look nice and respectable
is not necessarily something that members of staff
like. Hermine Arakelyan, for example, the receptionist
at the same photo studio, said she does not like
wearing badges because it is a way to lose her
privacy. "People see my name and sometimes
pretend they have known me", she complains.
Garnik Tigranyan, a hair dresser, complains too:
"It is uncomfortable to wear a badge while
giving haircuts to my clients".
Whatever the reasons for liking it or not, customers
are always right. As Nikolay Karakhanyan, a photographer
that regularily uses the services of Jupiter Photo
Express, puts it: "Badges change neither
the personality of the ones who wear them, nor
the system as a whole."