More than 160 employees of the Armenian nuclear power station at Metsamor look set to quit their jobs on Friday after failing to secure significant pay rises from the plant administration.
Many of them on Thursday claimed to be spending their last day of work at the Soviet-era facility producing about 40 percent of Armenia’s electricity.
In separate letters, the workers, among them senior nuclear energy specialists, last month asked Metsamor’s director Gagik Markosian to raise their wages by 50 percent or terminate their employment contracts. Markosian has still not responded to their letters, trying instead to convince them to reconsider their decision.
Under Armenia’s Labor Code, workers are considered to have been automatically relieved of their duties if their written quit requests are not granted or rejected for 30 days. In the case of Metsamor, the legal deadline expires on Friday.
Markosian and another senior Metsamor executive met with the 162 employees on Thursday in a last-ditch attempt to prevent the mass resignations. They failed to reach any agreements.
“For almost an hour they tried to convince us to stay on but it didn’t work,” Rudik Avetisian, a senior engineer from the plant’s reactor unit, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). Avetisian said he and his colleagues decided not to withdraw their resignation letters.
“They are not ready for any compromise with us,” said another worker.
Markosian refused to comment on the extraordinary development and its implications for Metsamor’s operational safety. A spokeswoman for the Armenian Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources also declined comment.
Metsamor employs more than 1,700 people, including a 450-strong core staff working at the plant’s sole functioning reactor and other key facilities. They reportedly earn between 145,000 and 443,000 drams ($390-$1,200) a month.
According to the plant administration, the average monthly wage of the workers demanding better pay currently stands at 277,500 drams ($740), more than twice the nationwide average.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service late last month, Markosian said the state-owned plant currently lacks the funds needed for a pay rise.
With the protesting staff technically remaining Metsamor employees until Friday morning, some of those workers had to report to work for a night shift that began late on Thursday. Under Armenian law and nuclear safety regulations, they are not allowed to leave their workplaces until the plant administration finds replacements for them.
“They will keep working until the plant administration finds replacements from reserve staff or among those employees who do not want to quit,” said Garegin Khangaldian, another engineer planning to leave the plant. “People are needed for ensuring the reactor’s safety and we understand that.”