Long Read December 25/2021
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Labor law violations in supermarkets: investigation

Hetq Media Factory had received letters from readers about poor working conditions in supermarkets. The cases of labor law violations described in those letters seemed so unbelievable that our journalists decided to go to work in different supermarket chains to understand the situation.

Each of the journalists worked for a short time in Evrika, Yerevan City, Nor Zovq, and SAS supermarket chains. We also spoke with former employees of those supermarkets.

When we realized that there were cases of labor law violations in at least three of the observed supermarkets, we applied to our readers to support this investigation through fundraising. In three weeks, 1000 USD was raised, thanks to which we carried out our investigation.

During the investigation, we observed several cases of labor law violations, which we will present in order.

The employer did not provide the employee with a copy of the employment contract and did not allow him to familiarize himself with the content of the contract.

One of the former employees of the supermarkets told us there were no registered employees until 2018, but after the change of power, contracts were signed with everyone. However, the employees were not given a copy of the contract.

An employment contract was signed with the journalist of Hetq Media Factory in the supermarket, but when she asked for her copy, she was told: "You won't need it." The employer has not even allowed her to familiarize herself with the content of the contract.

Labor Code, Article 85.

1. The written employment contract shall be concluded in two copies through the preparation of one document signed by the parties, one of which is handed over to the employee by the employer.

In supermarkets, it is also common to hire a person for a probation period without a contract. The journalists who have passed a probation period have not been in any contractual relation with the employer. They were also not paid for the probation period.

Labor Code, Article 91.

1. A probation period may be set upon signing an employment contract upon the consent of the parties. It may be set upon the wish of the employer to check whether the employee is suitable for the envisaged job (position) or upon the wish of the person being hired to check his or her suitability for the offered job (position). Conditions related to the probation period shall be defined by the employment contract.

Penalties for such actions about which the employee was not warned in advance in written form or in accordance with the contract.

Employees of the supermarkets are fined at least 500 AMD for talking with other employees of the section, for sitting, leaning anywhere, not smiling at the customer, or not wearing make-up. The amount of the fine is deducted from the salary.

The average monthly wage in the investigated supermarkets is about 80 000 AMD or about 3000 AMD per day.

If the customer finds an expired product in the section, the salesperson of the given section must buy two of that same product at his own expense and provide them to that customer.

Labor Code, Article 214.

The total amount of deductions from the salary as a "penalty" cannot exceed fifty percent of the employee's monthly salary.

Labor Code, Article 5.

4. Disciplinary rules can be set through an internal legal act, which shall enter into force upon duly informing the relevant persons about that act unless another time limit is provided for by those legal acts. One copy of the individual legal act on hiring shall be delivered to the employee within three days following the adoption.

Let us remind that the journalists and the former employees of the supermarkets who spoke with us had not received copies of the legal acts and the contract.

Labor Code, Article 226.

Before applying a disciplinary penalty, the employer shall demand from the employee a written explanation of the violation within a reasonable period of time.

A 15-minute break instead of at least 30 minutes

In all the investigated supermarkets, the employee's right to a break is violated. In the case of full-time work, the employee is provided with a 15-20-minute break, during which he or she should manage to eat, drink coffee and take care of other needs. Employees are allowed to sit only during breaks.

Labor Code, Article 152.

1. After the end of the first half of the working day (shift) but not later than four hours after starting the work, the employees shall be provided with a break for rest and a meal for no longer than two hours and not less than half an hour.

2. The break for rest and meal shall not be included in the working time, and the employee shall use it at his or her discretion. The employee shall have the right to be absent from the workplace during that period.

The salespersons cannot be missing from the workplace during the break. They say they often did not even manage to have a meal in 15 minutes.

The break and rest room is a part of the warehouse, where a small table and a chair for one person are placed. That space also serves as a dressing room for employees.

Աշխատանքային իրավունքների մի շարք խախտումներ են հայտնաբերվել սուպերմարկետներում. տեսչական մարմին .jpeg

Labour Code, Article 251.

1. The organization's medical room and the dining area shall be furnished in accordance with the requirements for furnishing such spaces, taking into account the number of employees.

Minors work in supermarkets under the same conditions as adults

In all the investigated supermarkets, we met 14-17-year-old employees. They worked under the same conditions, hours, and wages as adult employees. Employees under eighteen are limited to 36 hours per week but work more than 40 hours per week.

Labor Code, Article 140.

Shorter working time shall be set for:

4) employees between the ages of fourteen and sixteen — up to 24 hours per week;

5) employees between the ages of sixteen and eighteen — up to 36 hours a week.

Labor Code, Article 17.

2.1. Persons at the age of fourteen to sixteen may be involved only in temporary works not causing damage to their health, safety, education, and morality.

3. Persons at the age of fourteen to sixteen may not be involved in work on days off, non-working days — holidays and commemoration days — except for the cases of participation in sports and cultural events.

Labor Code, Article 153.

2. Employees under eighteen whose working time exceeds four hours shall be granted an additional break for at least 30 minutes for rest during the working time.

We observed these violations only during a few days of working in supermarkets. From conversations with former employees, we also found out that these are not the only violations.

Most of the violations were observed in three of the mentioned supermarkets. We also tried to listen to the point of view of the management of those three supermarkets. All the managers refused to be filmed.

Arthur, head of one of the branches of the "Nor Zovq" supermarket, who did not want to reveal his last name, said that "everything is legal" in their branch and they treat the employees very well. He also insisted that employees have the opportunity to take a 1-hour break. In the same branch, we observed that the employees could not take a break of more than 15 minutes.

The manager of one of the branches of "Evrika" supermarket, who also refused to be filmed, said that there is a "family" atmosphere in their branch, and they treat the employees well. He did not deny that the break is 15 minutes and that minors work under the same conditions as adult salespersons.

The human resources specialist of "SAS" supermarket said on the phone that they were swamped and could not answer our questions.

If your labor law has been violated and you want to speak up, write to info@mediafactory.am or the Facebook page of Hetq Media Factory.