Armenia’s struggling chemical giant is selling off ‘unnecessary’ metal and other items apparently in a bid to cover some of the costs of its forced downtime, including the elimination of back wages.
Manufacturing operations at Nairit, a sprawling plant on the southern outskirts of Armenian capital Yerevan, ground to a halt following the onset of the global financial crisis in late 2008. Despite attempts to return to full-scale production in subsequent years, the plant, whose main product is synthetic rubber, is now operating at only a fraction of its capacity.
Only some 1,000 of Nairit’s more than 3,000 employees go to work on a regular basis at present. They have not been paid for at least three months. The plant has a debt estimated at more than $145 million.
Several dozen Nairit workers demonstrated outside the presidential palace in Yerevan in June to demand their back wages. Officials from President Serzh Sarkisian’s staff assured them that the wage arrears would be eliminated. Later, in July, Armenia’s Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources said that a German engineering company, Chemieanlagenbau Chemnitz, also known as CAC, had expressed an interest in managing Nairit. But no further announcement on this account has been made yet.
Nairit spokesperson Anush Harutiunian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Wednesday that wage arrears for one month have been paid to workers earlier that day. She said this became possible due to “means found by the government”. She did not elaborate on where the government had found the money.
Harutiunian also said that despite formally going through a downtime the plant still has to spend up to $90,000 a month to maintain its operations, including payment for electricity and water consumption.
The spokesperson would not deny that Nairit is selling metal and other items and that the money generated through such deals is likely to be directed at the elimination of back wages. But she insisted the selloff did not affect the enterprise’s functionality.
“The metal that is being sold from Nairit is of no value for our production. I can clearly state that no valuable item has been sold,” said Harutiunian.
The head of the Nairit’s press office also suggested that no layoffs have taken place during the period of the plant’s idling and that the enterprise is ready to go into full operational mode any moment provided that funding is secured.
“Everyone is looking forward to working again. No one even allows the thought that Nairit may stay idling or that this downtime will last for years,” said Harutiunian.