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President Ilham Aliyev`s successful policy saw the expansion of social security system in 2014

Interview with  Minister of Labour and Social Protection of Population Salim Muslumov

Q: How would you characterize the government`s policy to improve people`s welfare against the background of Azerbaijan`s economic development?

A: This year has been very successful for our country. Its development in all spheres pleases every citizen of Azerbaijan. Our international positions strengthened. Azerbaijan’s international relations, both bilaterally and multilaterally, became broader and stronger.

over the last 10 years there has not been a second country developing in this area like Azerbaijan. This is confirmed by all international financial institutions and statistical data. Over the past 10 years, our economy has grown by 3.4 times, which is the highest indicator in the world. More than one million and two hundred thousand new jobs have been created. Great success has been achieved in reducing poverty. Currently, the poverty rate is slightly more than five percent. The fight against unemployment has yielded excellent results. The unemployment rate in Azerbaijan is below five percent.

As President Ilham Aliyev said: “Over the course of the decade we followed the path of nationwide leader Heydar Aliyev and succeeded in meeting the goals we had set for our state and society. In terms of its economic performance, Azerbaijan has become one of the world leaders, which has made our country even stronger.”

As a result of the goal-oriented activities carried out on the basis of thought-out programs, our gross domestic product has increased 3.4 times, the non-oil sector of the economy 2.6 times and budget revenues 16 times, while the volume strategic exchange reserves now exceeds $50 billion. Over $170 billion has been invested in the national economy.

Such a rapid development has also led to the improved well-being of our citizens. Over the last 10 years the incomes of our population have increased 6.5 times and the average salary 5.5 times. I think that the decline of poverty from 49 to 5.3 percent and the reduction of unemployment in half to 5 percent can be viewed as important achievements of the country

Leading international rating agencies upgraded the credit ratings of Azerbaijan even during the crisis. The Davos Economic Forum – the number one economic forum in the world - awarded Azerbaijan 38th place in the competitiveness of countries. This is a great achievement and great result indicating that our country is developing successfully. Our economy is diversified, and it is not tied only to the oil factor. The economic reform and economic policy conducted in recent years contributed to the diversification of the economy. I am confident that in the coming years even more impressive successes will be achieved in the economic sphere. Our programmes related to economic policy are being consistently implemented.

A strong economy, of course, also contributes to the resolution of social problems. Azerbaijan is also conducting a consistent policy in this area. As President Ilham Aliyev has repeatedly said “At the centre of our policy is the citizen of Azerbaijan.” Therefore, a strong social policy is our basic direction. Social programmes are being successfully implemented. I am confident that in the coming years, our policy in the social sphere will continue. Our strong economic potential gives us grounds to talk about it. Without economic independence, no country can claim to be completely free and independent. Therefore, I believe that independence in the economic sphere is our greatest achievement.

This year, Azerbaijan once again established itself as a humanitarian centre of the world.

This year, Azerbaijan hosted the International Humanitarian Forum. This event attracted the attention of the world community. Azerbaijan is already showing itself as a centre for inter-religious and inter-ethnic dialogue. Religious and national tolerance, tolerance in our country and the fact that all peoples live as one family are our greatest success, a great asset and a great advantage. I can say that our country's experience in this area is being studied and is receiving approval in the world.

Q: What about the government`s attention to socially vulnerable groups?

A: President Ilham Aliyev`s successful policy saw the expansion of social security system in 2014. I would like to emphasize that in the last decade social spending has increased 8 times. The government pays constant attention to solving the problems of socially vulnerable groups. Since the start of the year, 4.4 percent of the country`s population or 412,245 people received monthly and single-time social addition, 50,896 people received presidential pensions in accordance with decrees and orders of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

In the last year, the President signed more than 10 decrees and orders related to socially vulnerable people. Karabakh war veterans had their monthly social allowances grow 21.6 percent.

Q: Some important reforms have been carried out in the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of Population. What are the priorities of these reforms?

A: Extensive work has been carried out to protect the labor rights of Azerbaijani citizens, improve employment opportunities, reinforce the social protection of the population, provide state benefits to the lower-income population, prepare various regulatory documents in relation to presidential pensions and other social benefits, as well as to develop and implement pilot projects, study best international practices, and modernize the system of social protection as a whole. As a result of the successful implementation of the state program on the implementation of the employment strategy in Azerbaijan covering the 2011-2015 period, approved by order of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan dated November 15, 2011, as well as other state programs of a social nature, we have succeeded in dramatically reducing the level of unemployment, enhancing the social protection of the vulnerable population, modernizing the plight of the labor market, improving the quality and competitiveness of labor reserves, and developing human capital in cooperation with relevant government agencies.

The implementation of the Social Protection Development project jointly with the World Bank has helped us improve the quality of the services provided to the jobless, job seekers, and socially sensitive population, strengthen the capacity of the State Employment Service and the State Labor Inspectorate, create an information management system for the State Employment Service, modernize vocational training for youngsters, prepare and introduce vocational and training programs in accordance with ISCO 88/08, and put in place a system of social protection for the unemployed and job seekers, all meeting contemporary international standards. In 2014, the main focus of the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection of the Population will be on improving the housing conditions of people with disabilities and the families of martyrs, while also providing disabled war veterans with motor vehicles and benefits. In addition, leaning on the best international practice, we intend to continue working to further improve the system of medical and social rehabilitation, introducing new types of rehabilitation services, aligning the disability criteria with international standards, providing those in need of social assistance with adequate services, engaging qualified professionals, eliminating the factors that can potentially lead to irregularity, and building the relationship between civil servants and citizens in accordance with ethical standards.

Specific work was carried out to introduce state-of-the-art service mechanisms, eliminate situations that may lead to cases of corruption and bribery, and to minimize the scope of relations between government officials and citizens. The introduction of financial and tax breaks for employers hiring young specialists, the alignment of the educational system with the growing needs of the national economy, greater focus on the development of vocational education, the provision of uninterrupted educational opportunities, the establishment of job fairs for young people, and a number of other activities have been very helpful. On the one hand, the introduction of new technologies and innovations will enable young people to promptly acquire information about vacancies, employer specialization requirements, and job descriptions, facilitating their integration into the labor market and helping them develop their knowledge and skills using modular and multimedia technologies based on competitive educational and training programs. The development of technologies and innovation will provide an impetus to the creation of new industrial enterprises based on local raw materials and the application of cutting-edge technologies, playing an important role in the sustainable development of the non-oil sector, including the creative economy based on intellectual property and tourism infrastructure, and inevitably lead to the greater employment of young specialists in these enterprises. In addition, as part of the Social Protection Development project implemented jointly by the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection of the Population and the World Bank, local and international experts have carried out activities to improve employment opportunities for young people. This work was aimed at facilitating the selection of the right job, expanding employment opportunities, improving consultation work, eliminating long-term unemployment through the application of advanced techniques, streamlining labor market programs, and preparing professional and associated standards, vocational profiles, and modular training programs.

Q: What is the ministry doing to protect the rights and ensure employment of people with disabilities?

A: The main legislative acts of the Republic of Azerbaijan provide a very good basis for the protection of the human rights of people with disabilities in Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan’s ratification of both the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities underscores its commitment to protection of the rights of children with disabilities. Azerbaijan has backed up its international obligations by enacting and amending its legislative framework in key areas affecting the lives of children with disabilities, through legislation such as the Disability Prevention and Disabled Persons (Rehabilitation and Social Protection) Act, which prohibits discrimination against children with disabilities, and the Law on Children’s Rights which provides for the protection of children with disabilities in a range of areas. Moreover, there exist some excellent programmes, such as the “State Programme on De-Institutionalisation and Alternative Care 2006-2015” and “Inclusive Education” which are being implemented with a view to more adequately involving children with disabilities in mainstream education and mainstream family life, rather than living a life of segregation from the rest of society.