Workers at a chemical plant in Armenia’s third largest city on Monday refused to enter the work premises as they demanded that the company’s administration pay their back wages first.
The enterprise based in Vanadzor, some 120 kilometers to the north of Armenian capital Yerevan, has been hit hard by the global economic crisis and, in particular, a collapse of international prices of calcium carbide, its main product. It stopped manufacturing the chemical compound used in steelmaking and sent much of its 830-strong workforce on indefinite leave as a result.
The remaining workers say they have not received their wages since March, and the company’s total wage arrears at the moment are estimated to exceed $265,000.
Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian said in June that the Armenian government would not provide direct financial assistance requested by the country’s second-largest chemical enterprise, but added that instead it was ready to help it sell its production to domestic consumers.
Meanwhile, the management of Vanadzor-Khimprom, which has largely stood idle since last fall, hoped that the government would channel a part of a $500 million loan obtained from Russia into its rehabilitation.
“We want [President] Serzh Sarkisian’s promises that we will receive our wages every month to be kept. But today we have not received our wages for six months,” said one angry worker at Khimprom.
“The prime minister first promised that we would be paid from the Russian $500 million [stabilization loan],” another worker continued. “…But after receiving that loan, he came here and said he wouldn’t give it.”
The workers say they were last paid on Friday – their wages for March. They believe this was done by the administration to avert their possible strike.
“Perhaps they learned on Friday that we wanted to organize such a protest and gave us our wages for March,” said one worker.
Workers also complained about job cuts that left many of their colleagues jobless and some accused the company administration of continuing plunder at the plant.
RFE/RL could not reach Vanadzor-Khimprom director Aleksandr Snegiryov for comment. He as well as his assistant Artur Stepanian were said to be out of town. The latter reportedly traveled to Yerevan to negotiate a bank loan.
Before that, Stepanian had urged the workers to be patient: “Like yourselves, I have not received my wages for five months.”
Late last year, Vanadzor-Khimprom stopped the production of carbide following a dramatic fall in prices on the international market. The plant’s administration said they might resume the export of carbide already this fall depending on the outcome of ongoing negotiations with an Italian company.
Also, the first batch of potassium fertilizers produced at the plant has now been delivered to agricultural farms in Armenia. The plant is currently 95 percent ready for producing these fertilizers.
In the end, Khimprom’s workers decided to postpone their strike for a week. But many told RFE/RL they doubted problems would be solved during this period.