Dozens of employees of Armenia’s nuclear power station at Metsamor who quit their jobs last week agreed to return to work on Monday after accepting a 10 percent increase in their wages offered by the government.
Armenia’s Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources announced the pay rise several hours after negotiations held between employee representatives and Energy Minister Armen Movsisian.
More than 150 of them formally ceased to work for Metsamor on Friday one month after demanding that the plant’s administration raise their wages by 50 percent or relieve them of their duties. They cited the dangerous character of their work and the increased cost of life in the country.
The administration and the protesting staff agreed on a 20-30 percent pay rise during last-minute talks held on the same day. However, the compromise deal was vetoed by Movsisian’s ministry. The latter offered a more modest wage increase that was apparently discussed during Monday’s talks.
In a short statement, the ministry said the average wage of Metsamor’s 450-strong core staff catering to the plant’s sole functioning reactor and other key facilities will rise by 10 percent. All of the protesting employees, among them senior engineers, work there. According to the plant administration, they currently earn an average of 277,500 drams ($740) a month.
The employee representatives discussed the proposal with their colleagues before responding to it. “It wasn’t a particularly lavish proposal. But we have accepted it in order to reduce tension,” one of them, Karen Karapetian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
“Nobody is satisfied,” said another worker. “But what can we do? We must take some steps for our state and our families.”
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources insisted through its spokeswoman, Lusine Harutiunian, that the mass walkout did not compromise the safety of the Soviet-era plant. “There are no problems with safety, and it’s business as usual at the nuclear plant,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Metsamor’s sole functioning reactor, which generates nearly 40 percent of Armenia’s electricity, was brought to a halt on September 5 for regular prophylactic repairs and partial refueling. It was due to be relaunched by October 21.
The ministry statement said the Metsamor reactor is now undergoing final tests and will resume power generation very soon. But it gave no concrete dates.
Vahram Petrosian, head of the Hayatom state-run research institute on nuclear energy, attributed the delay to the mass resignations. “It’s an unprecedented phenomenon, a totally wrong method [of struggle,]” Petrosian said, referring to the walkout. “It could lead to very bad things.”