On multiple occasions in 2019 and 2020, authorities selectively blocked mobile and fixed-line internet access, temporarily restricted access to foreign media and social networking sites and imposed blocks on virtual private network (VPN) services, apparently in response to political protests and as part of national restrictions during and after Azerbaijan’s armed conflict with Armenian forces in September-November 2020. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty are among the sites permanently blocked in Azerbaijan. The increase in frequency and lack of transparency regarding internet disruptions raise serious concerns about future Azerbaijani government efforts to control access to information in ways that impede foreign business interests.
There have been no known acts of political violence against U.S. businesses or assets, nor against any foreign owned entity. It is unlikely that civil disturbances, should they occur, would be directed against U.S. businesses or the U.S. community.
During 44 days of intensive fighting from September 27 to November 10, 2020, involving Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Armenia-supported separatists, significant casualties and atrocities were reported by all sides. After Azerbaijan, with Turkish support, reestablished control over four surrounding territories controlled by separatists since 1994, a Russian-brokered ceasefire arrangement announced by Azerbaijan and Armenia on November 9 resulted in the peaceful transfer of control over three additional territories to Azerbaijan, as well as the introduction of Russian peacekeepers to the region. The ceasefire has largely held, but tensions remain high, particularly along the international border, which has not been fully demarcated.
Russian forces have played a role in controlling access along highways near the border and into the Nagorno-Karabakh region from Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani government has suspended or threatened to suspend the operations of U.S. companies in Azerbaijan whose products or services are provided in the area of Nagorno-Karabakh in which Russian peacekeepers are currently deployed and has banned the entry into Azerbaijan of some persons who have visited Nagorno-Karabakh. The U.S. government is unable to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in and around Nagorno-Karabakh as access is restricted.
The 1999 Labor Code regulates overall labor relations and recognizes international labor rights. The work week generally is 40 hours. The right to strike exists, though industrial strikes are rare. Azerbaijan is a member of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and has ratified more than 57 ILO Conventions. In practice, labor unions are strongly tied to political interests of the government. Collective bargaining is not practiced. Azerbaijan has regulations to monitor labor abuses, health, and safety standards in low-wage assembly operations, but enforcement is less effective.
Employment relations are established by an employment contract, which, in most cases, does not necessarily indicate a fixed term of employment. While a number of workers still work without contracts in Azerbaijan’s informal economy, recent tax and customs reforms have provided incentives for individuals to register their employment to benefit from state financial support. Under national law, an employer must give an employee two months’ notice of termination, with certain exceptions. An employee can terminate his/her employment contract at any time but must give one month’s notice. Upon termination of formally registered employment, employers must pay departing employees monetary compensation for unused vacation leave. A formally registered employee who becomes unemployed is entitled to 70 percent of his/her average monthly wage, calculated over the past 12 months at the last place of work. An employee must have worked under a valid labor contract in order to obtain unemployment benefits. The law “On Unemployment Insurance” signed in August 2017 allows for payments to unemployed individuals registered with the State Employment Fund.
Azerbaijan has an abundant supply of semi-skilled and unskilled laborers. An estimated 35 percent of the Azerbaijani population works in agriculture, although this sector only contributes around 6 percent of the country’s GDP. The construction sector tends to use temporary and contract workers; reportedly many of these workers’ agreements are not formally registered with the government. The relatively limited supply of highly skilled labor is one of the biggest challenges in Azerbaijan’s labor market. The average monthly wage as of January 2022 was AZN 766 (USD 451), and the official minimum wage increased in 2022 to AZN 300 (USD 176) per month, compared to the previous level of AZN 250 (USD 147) per month. The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection took measures to avoid unjustified dismissals, redundancies of employees in a public sector, as well as to preserve salaries of the employees sent on vacation and ensured expansion of unemployment insurance benefits, and the establishment of a proactive support mechanism in this area. Part of the reform program was to expand services to ensure employment, ensure transparency and prevent corruption. The number of legalized labor contracts increased by 30 percent during 2017-2021.
In Azerbaijan, the COVID-19 crisis has deepened socio-economic vulnerabilities and widened disparities across regions, firm sizes, and between the formal and informal sides of the economy. To respond to the pandemic, a Presidential Decree outlining the emergency response package of measures was signed in March 2020, and the COVID-19 Response Action Plan was agreed by the Cabinet of Ministers in April 2020. The government extended and scaled up existing support programs and designed new schemes. The initial size of the support package in 2020 was AZN 3.3 billion (around 4.8 per cent of GDP), later increased to include additional tax benefits and a one-off extension of social assistance. The package included social protection measures such as direct cash transfers and an expansion of unemployment insurance to support the unemployed and informal workers, more targeted social assistance to support low-income households and vulnerable groups, the creation of additional public jobs, and energy and education subsidies. The main interventions to support businesses were cash payments to entrepreneurs and employers in COVID-19-affected areas, interest rate subsidies and guarantees for both new and old loans in affected sectors, as well as support to the transport sector and subsidized government rents.