The disintegration of the Soviet economy led to economic decline in Azerbaijan, with falling living standards and rising unemployment. The minimum wage was raised several times, but it still does not provide adequately for a worker and family. A decent living can only be assured by the "safety net" of the extended family structure. Health and safety standards are often ignored in the workplace.
Unemployment benefits were introduced in 1991. Contributions in the amount of 2% of payroll are made by employers. Unemployment benefits are paid for 26 weeks, with additional weeks provided for every year worked over 25 years. The maximum allowable time period to receive benefits is 52 weeks. The amount of benefits provided ranges from 55% to 75% of average earnings. Benefits are suspended if the applicant refuses two job offers. Old age and disability pension and survivor benefits are provided. Workers' compensation provides both short-term disability benefits and pensions.
Women nominally enjoy the same legal status as men and are underrepresented in government and higher levels of the work force. Although women receive opportunities for education, work, and political activity, social traditions tend to keep them in subordinate positions. Violence against women is a serious problem especially in rural areas. The government is committed to protecting the rights of children.
Ethnic tensions and anti-Armenian sentiment are still strong. Many Armenians have either been expelled or emigrated. It is estimated that only 10,000–20,000 Armenians continue to reside in Azerbaijan. Other minorities, such as the Kurds and the Turks, also report problems of discrimination. The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, religion, and speech, but these rights are often restricted by the government. Azerbaijan's human rights record remains poor. Excessive force was used by police, and the judicial system was inefficient and corrupt. Prison conditions remain harsh.