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The administration of a large chemical plant in Yerevan have pledged to clear their wage arrears to nearly 3,000 staff workers who have not received remuneration for at least two months.

Production of synthetic rubber was suspended at Nairit Plant Closed Joint-Stock Company in May 2009 following an explosion and fire within its production premises in which four workers were killed. It resumed only in November that year. The plant has been practically idling since March this year because of a debt of about 1 billion drams (or some 2.7 million) to the electricity networks of Armenia.

Nairit Plant CJSC Labor Committee Chairman Hrach Tadevosian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Thursday that salaries for June will be transferred to the workers’ accounts shortly and at least half of the payment due for July will be made by the end of this month. He said the administration had pledged there would remain no arrears of wages till mid-September.

According to Tadevosian, Nairit’s director Vahan Melkonian is now in the Russian capital to hold negotiations with Moscow-based CIS Interstate Bank, the plant’s principal shareholder, about the future of the plant. He said the continuing search for ways to end the difficult situation for the moment holds the workers back from resorting to a strike or other means of large-scale protests.

“They do not want to create additional obstacles to the plant’s management in resolving these issues,” he said. “After all, I don’t think that the government or other instances will manage to pay the salaries to the Nairit workers if they stage protests.”

Some Nairit workers approached by RFE/RL said they, indeed, preferred waiting for a little longer rather than become unemployed. Others said they were tired of constant promises by the administration.

About a decade ago the Armenian government divided Nairit into two parts and sold their shares separately to different foreign companies. The enterprise separated from the chemical giant, Yerevan Nairit Plant Company, does not yet turn out products. A joint Armenian-Chinese chloroprene rubber producing plant, Shanxi-Nairit, was launched in China earlier this year.

Tadevosian claims that the Armenian government, which still holds a 10-percent stake in Nairit, is doing nothing and “forget that it has obligations to the plant’s workers.”

“We use the Russian natural gas in our production. Can’t our government mediate so that the Russians give a little less expensive gas to their company?” said Tadevosian.

Armenia’s Energy and Natural Resources Minister Armen Movsisian denies the government is doing nothing to help the plant and blames the situation on the continuing effects of the global economic recession that also affected Armenia’s chemical industry.

“There is nothing like this. On the contrary, the government is providing help. The matter will be solved in the coming days,” Movsisian said in an RFE/RL interview. “The economic crisis has had a rather lasting impact on the chemical industry. This is the main reason, and this is the case throughout the world, not only in Armenia.”

The minister expressed confidence that Nairit will resume production in “one or two months.”
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