Ageism as State Policy in Tajikistan

Tajikistan: An old man with his grandson in the field. Photo Credit: Michael Nelson © The World Bank

For any young Tajiks looking for a government job, things are looking up. But for the aging population of Tajikistan, a recent executive order requiring officials to fire all government employees who are over the age of 63 for men and 58 for women brings only bad tidings. The government says the policy is designed to increase its use of technology, but some worry that the ruling will exacerbate the decline of Tajikistan’s intellectual capital. If the ruling is implemented, government employees who are of age to receive a pension will be automatically fired despite their desire to continue working, their qualifications, and a lack of qualified replacements. By firing workers because of their age, Tajikistan’s ruling violates Articles 6 and 7 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), Articles 2 and 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and Article 12 of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA). It also violates Tajikistan’s own constitution and labor codes.

By forcing older government employees to stop working, the regime is essentially condemning them to poverty. Though government salaries are low, government pensions are even worse and they do not allow workers to use their positions to make extra money; for example, teachers giving private lessons or doctors seeing patients outside of their regular office hours. Reports indicate that as of early January, over thirty professors have already been fired from their positions at two of Tajikistan’s universities. Government sources say they face a predicament of what to do: either ignore the regime’s orders and face potential punishment, or fire those over the specified age. Former Education Minister, Munira Inoyatova, told EurasiaNet.org “many pension-age veteran employees possess huge human, organizational and scientific potential. To reject this potential is to deprive the country of a decent future.” Inoyatova also said that public anger is rising on the issue.

By firing people based on their age, and prohibiting them from working, Tajikistan’s government is acting in violation of Articles 6 and 7 the ICESCR, which guarantee the right to work and make a decent living, respectively. Tajikistan acceded to the ICESCR in 1999, making it binding on the country. In addition to the ICESCR, this ruling also defies Tajikistan’s own constitution and labor codes. Article 35 of the Tajik Constitution protects the right of all people to work, to choose their profession, and to have their job protected. The Constitution also states that “any kind of limitation in employment relations is forbidden.” Section 7 of Tajikistan’s Labor Code specifically prohibits discrimination in employment based on age. Firing workers from their jobs because they reach a certain age puts the Tajik regime at odds with its own law, international law, and internationally recognized norms.

In addition to the inconsistency with binding law, this ruling also goes against internationally recognized norms. Article 2 of the UDHR states that all people are entitled to the same rights without distinction of any kind and Article 23 defends the right to work and protects against unemployment. The UN General Assembly (GA) adopted MIPAA in 2002. It was the first global agreement recognizing older people as contributors to their societies and asking governments to include the elderly in all social and economic development policies. Article 12 of the MIPAA explains that older people should have the opportunity to work, for as long as they wish and are able to, in satisfying and productive work. Though the UDHR and MIPAA are not legally binding, both were adopted by the GA and demonstrate international consensus. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) states in its document Human Rights of Older Persons that non-discrimination is an existing human rights norm that must be applied to older people. Guidance from the OHCHR indicates that international standards of non-discrimination also apply to the elderly, thus making the provisions of the ICESCR and the UDHR applicable to that group.

Freelance writer, Konstantin Parshin, notes that Tajiks are raising interesting questions about the new order, asking if Prime Minister Okil Okilov, who will turn 69 this year, should be fired or if President Emomali Rahmonov, who is sixty and plans to run for another seven-year term, will have to leave office after two years due to his advanced age. Perhaps the Tajik government will recognize that this new ruling will not only hurt many of its citizens, but may hurt the country as well. Low government salaries push young Tajiks to the private sector and abroad. With high unemployment and emigration, there are not many skilled workers left to fill vacancies. Without the experience and knowledge of older workers, Tajikistan will not be propelled forward the way the government is hoping and it may even regress backwards.

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