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Government Silent On Back Wages As Metsamor Staff Threaten Strike


By Shakeh Avoyan

The Armenian energy ministry on Thursday avoided any new specific pledges to clear wage arrears at the Metsamor nuclear power station as its staff reaffirmed their threats to go on strike.

Metsamor workers, who have not been paid for four months, have warned the authorities that they will stop work at all operational divisions of the plant except its reactor unless they get their back wages by August 7. Energy Minister Karen Galustian had earlier promised to meet their demands by July 31.

But one of his deputies, Ara Simonian, indicated that the government is still unable to pay the salaries. “The existing financial resources first of all go to pay for imports of fuel and only then are used for solving other accumulated problems, including the wages,” Simonian told special hearings at the presidential commission on human rights. He set no date for eliminating the arrears.

A representative of some 750 Metsamor employees, who issued the warning in an open letter to President Robert Kocharian last week, told the commission that the strike would have “unprecedented consequences” for the plant’s safety.

The plant’s director general, Suren Azatian, has backed the demands of his staff, but has condemned as “irresponsible” their threats to launch a strike, which is strictly forbidden by Armenia’s nuclear safety legislation. Metsamor’s only operational reactor was halted on July 10 for the next 45 days for scheduled maintenance and reloading of nuclear fuel supplied from Russia.

Armenia has paid Russia $ 4 million as an advance against fresh fuel deliveries, with the rest of the $13 million bill to be paid within three months. Yerevan has pledged to repay its $16 million debt to Russia for earlier fuel supplies by June 2002.

Metsamor is owed a staggering $120 million by the Hayenergo national power grid -- the principal cause of its extremely difficult financial situation.
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