The decisions made about couriers are of a political nature

On August 14, the Food Security Agency (FSA) of the Republic of Azerbaijan  decided to re-apply the restrictive decision in connection with the suspension of the activities of the Limited Liability Company “Wolt Azərbaycan” ("Volt Azerbaijan" - Wolt). The FSA reported that in connection with the identified shortcomings, it was decided to suspend the activities of the above-mentioned structure for the delivery of food products, as well as the application of restrictive measures against persons who have not passed the initial and periodic medical examination. Appropriate measures have also been taken against the responsible person of the LLC.

A day later, “Wolt Azerbaijan LLC” responded to FSA's claims. The company announced this on social networks. It was stated that the Wolt company continues its activities:

"The information about the detection of violations by the FSA in the activities of “Wolt Azerbaijan LLC” has nothing to do with reality. Unfortunately, in order to put pressure on our company, the Agency has taken the path of spreading incomplete and unreliable information on social networks, damaging our reputation," the statement said.

The restriction of “Wolt Azerbaijan's” activities in social networks is associated with the recent pressure exerted on couriers.

On April 21 last year, the couriers of the “Wolt company” protested on social networks because of the low fee for the services provided. And on August 1 of this year, a group of couriers protested against the traffic police stopping and sending their mopeds to the penalty area. Immediately after this protest action, Afiyaddin Mammadov, the chairman of the “Desktop”, was detained and sentenced to 30 days of administrative arrest. In the following days, members of the Board of the “Desktop” Ayhan Israfilov and Elvin Mustafayev were arrested on charges of acquiring, storing and selling narcotic substances. Another member of the Board of the “Desktop,” Orhan Zeynalov, managed to escape from his pursuers. After he spread a message about the threat of arrest through social networks, the Ministry of Internal Affairs issued a statement that no enforcement measures were carried out against him.

Is there any connection between the information disseminated by the state body about the restriction of the activities of “Wolt Azerbaijan” and the pressure exerted recently on couriers?

Human rights activist Fuad Hasanov answers the questions of ASTNA.

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Question: Does the information disseminated by the state body about the restriction of the activities of “Wolt Azerbaijan” have anything to do with the pressure exerted recently on couriers?

Answer: Of course it does. The suspension or restriction of the company's activities occurred after couriers cooperating with this company protested against sending their mopeds, due to changes in the "Rules of the Road", to the penalty areas. In the first days of the crisis, the FSA issued a well-known statement in connection with “Wolt Azerbaijan” and made accusations against the courier company. Due to the "identified" shortcomings, the FSA decided to suspend the activities of the food delivery company, as well as to suspend "persons who have not passed the initial and periodic medical examination." In turn, “Wolt Azerbaijan” issued a statement on its official page on August 15 in which it refuted the FSA's allegations and stated that the company operates without any violations of the law, which was confirmed by the court decision that came into force. The company further notes in its statement that "the information disseminated by the FSA about the detection of violations in the activities of “Wolt Azerbaijan LLC” has nothing to do with reality. Unfortunately, in order to put pressure on our company, the Agency has taken the path of spreading incomplete and unreliable information, which damages our reputation."

Also, the company, in connection with the message published on August 14, stated that it continues its activities. In it, the company defended the legality of its transportation activities, but the question of the rights and requirements of couriers was left open.

The company defended the legality of its food delivery activities here, but the question of the rights and requirements of couriers was left open. The couriers' protest against the requirements set by the government for motor-driven vehicles was not supported by the company, and if it was, the public did not see it. In addition, couriers complained about tariffs for a long time, and this issue remains unresolved. It seemed that the authorities wanted to kill two birds with one stone. To punish or take under more advantageous control a transport company whose activities have seriously expanded, as well as to confidently prevent the right to protest/strike of workers/trade unions, which they have always been wary of.

Question: Recently, there have been more and more reports that couriers are being harassed or arrested. What is the reason for this?

Answer: According to the amendments to the law "On Road Traffic", for motorcycles with a speed of over 50 km/h, a registration plate and a driver's license are required. A customs declaration is required to obtain a registration mark. Entrepreneurs who import motorcycles into the country register them at customs not as a vehicle, but as spare parts. So, the corruption pyramid makes its "contribution". Most of all, in this situation, couriers suffer, who earn their penny by the sweat of their brow. To be able to obtain a registration mark, the courier must obtain a corresponding document from the seller from whom he purchased the motorcycle, and the seller must submit it on the basis of a customs declaration. But the motorcycle got into the country as a spare part. Thus, couriers suffered from the corruption mechanism.

On August 1, the Confederation of Trade Unions "Desktop" and the Union of Couriers published a statement stating the problems created by the amendments to the law "On Road Traffic" that have come into force.

The Confederation of Trade Unions "Desktop" was established on March 1, 2022 by a group of activist workers with the aim of combating the exploitation of workers in Azerbaijan, providing free legal assistance to workers, reviving trade union traditions, organizing workers and campaigning for a joint struggle. But the creation and growth of an effective protest culture of citizens, the strengthening of the protest of workers/trade unions, which is becoming more institutional, the growth of its scale, solidarity and mutual assistance, is exactly what the authorities do not like, what they do not accept.

The arrest in August of several members of the Confederation of Trade Unions "Desktop", as usual with the presentation of false charges to public activists, indicates that the authorities are faithful to their methods and the culture of public protest is undesirable for them. On-duty drug charges are the most common action of law enforcement agencies against dissidents, protesters. A criminal case was opened against two members of the confederation, Elvin Mustafayev (also a member of the Movement "Son Ümid" ("Last Hope") and Akhan Israfilov, under Article 234.4.3 (large-scale drug trafficking.) According to the Criminal Code of Azerbaijan, a preventive measure has been chosen for both of them, arrest for a period of 4 months. Such steps are aimed at nipping in the bud the ability of young people who earn their bread by honest work to protest and express their views, to deprive them of prospects in the struggle for their rights.

On August 13, a group of representatives of civil society in order to protect the persecuted couriers announced their solidarity to take off and create a platform "Stop the persecution".

The statement distributed by the "Desktop" on August 1 in connection with the new law that came into force, the protest of a group of couriers using mopeds against the police sending their vehicles to the penalty area, the detention after the protest action of the chairman of the trade union Afiyaddin Mammadov, the decision of the Khatai district court to impose a fine of 500 manats on him, the verdict of the Yasamal district court about his administrative arrest for a period of 30 days and the absurd statement of the Ministry of Internal Affairs about the reason for the arrest, gives serious grounds to say that, that the decisions taken are political in nature and shed light on the true nature of the case.

Moreover, on the night of August 12-13, another member of the "Desktop" Orhan Zeynalov reported that he was being pursued by the police, that a case had been initiated against him in connection with the non-repayment of a bank loan. Orhan Zeynalov also collaborated with the couriers of “Wolt Azerbaijan.”

Question: What do couriers want? Do their demands go beyond the legal framework?

Answer: Couriers have several requirements, and they do not contradict any laws. If you remember, at the end of April last year, couriers protested to “Wolt Azerbaijan” in connection with low pay, but these protests were not heard. Later that year, on August 29, the courier company reduced the tariff for 1 km of delivery from 1.90 AZN to 1.60 AZN, which caused a serious protest by couriers. Several couriers interviewed by the press explained the essence of the issue and their objections. Couriers stated that the calculations of the delivery of orders by the same courier to different addresses were unfair and they demanded an increase in the tariff for every 100 m (after 500 m) from 3 to 5 gepiks.

There were no objections to the requirement of a driver's license and a registration plate for motorcycles with a speed of more than 50 km/h. However, the couriers objected to the fact that all the new legal requirements, in the presence of corruption from the very beginning, create serious problems for them.

Question: How should the labor and other rights of couriers be protected?

Answer: Labor rights must be protected by labor legislation, that is, they must work on the basis of an official employment contract. But in reality the situation is different. Couriers can work with a delivery company as a last resort on the basis of a service contract. On the other hand, a service contract may be beneficial to an entrepreneur, that is, a company, but it is not beneficial from the point of view of the rights and interests of employees, in this case couriers. Since the terms of the service contract are set by the company. An employment contract can better protect the rights of employees. There is a wide range of guarantees, ranging from the working hours and ending with the payment of overtime hours provided by law, life insurance, ensuring safety regulations, opportunities for legal challenge of labor disputes arising between the employer and the employee, etc.

Question: Couriers are actually not a very large and poor stratum. What is the problem, why are there persecutions and arrests? Many attribute this harassment and pressure to the fact that couriers are sticking out their problems. But why are the authorities wary of this small and poor social group? Maybe there is another, invisible political or legal side to the issue?

Answer: The delivery company is a Finnish company, it is international, operates in dozens of countries, has about 2 million courier employees. A local office of the company has also been operating in Azerbaijan for several years, which is popular in cities such as Baku, Ganja and Sumgait, and carries out food delivery and courier activities. A significant part of more than 2 thousand couriers cooperating with the company, a year ago, twice collectively protested against the tariffs set by the company, reduced payments to couriers, demanded a slight increase in tariffs. And at the end of last year, the already proposed amendments to the law "On Road Traffic" began to create serious obstacles to courier activities due to the opacity of the customs system, or rather, its corruption. This caused protests from almost all couriers using motorcycles. Here is a simple example. The statistics of fires in apartments on the lower floors of multi-storey buildings from unopened cigarette butts thrown from the balconies of the upper floors or from a small spark in the wiring is great. But a small spark can cause a big fire. The authorities at all levels are afraid of civil protests, even if they are insignificant, and do not want to recognize the existence of such a phenomenon.

Question: What is the way out of this situation?

Answer: In the Labor Code, the Article 309 imposes the exercise of public control over the protection of workers' rights on Trade Unions, which follows from the Code. The current state Confederation of Trade Unions in the country is better known to people as an organization that provides vouchers, does not do anything significant. The Confederation of Trade Unions "Desktop" emerged as an alternative to the official Confederation. The creation of such alternatives can seriously help address the problems existing in the labor market, but it is inappropriate to talk about possible reforms within the existing system.

The authorities must respect the right of citizens to a civilized protest, the requirements of legislation on the protection of workers' rights must be fulfilled, complaints from social groups must be listened to, and the circumstances that create problems for their interests must be considered from a legal point of view seriously and transparently.

 

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