Hundreds of employees of Armenia’s largest chemical enterprise again took to the streets of Yerevan on Monday to demand payment of their back wages and a reactivation of their troubled plant.
Erratic manufacturing operations at the Nairit plant ground to a halt following the onset of the global financial crisis in late 2008. The Soviet-era chemical giant, whose main product is synthetic rubber, has since operated sporadically and at a fraction of its capacity.
Only some 500 of its more than 3,000 employees go to work on a regular basis. They are entitled to some pay despite being idle most of the time. Significant delays in the payment of those wages have periodically triggered street protests by Nairit workers.
The crowd of mostly middle-aged workers marched to the presidential palace in Yerevan after gathering outside the prime minister’s office and dismissing fresh assurances given by government officials. The workers said that they have not been paid for almost a year.
Five representatives of the protesters were received by Hovannes Hovsepian, the chief of President Serzh Sarkisian’s Oversight Service. They said Hovsepian assured them that they will be paid for one month on Tuesday and will get another monthly wage within the next 20 days. The official also said that there will be encouraging news about the future of Nairit by August.
The workers were far from satisfied with what they heard, promising to stage more street protests. “For three years they have been saying once in every three months that the plant will start working soon,” complained one man.
The Nairit staff heard similar assurances when they rallied outside Sarkisian’s offices last November. Officials from the presidential administration told them at the time that the debt-ridden plant will likely resume its large-scale production operations in 2013.
Energy Minister Armen Movsisian said last month that the Armenian government is now negotiating with Russia’s Rosneft oil giant on the possibility of its takeover of Nairit. He gave no details of the talks.
Nairit was owned by a British-registered obscure firm until February 2012. The company , Rhinoville Property Limited, lost control over the chemical giant after failing to repay a $70 million loan borrowed from Commonwealth of Independent States’ (CIS) Interstate Bank in 2006. The Moscow-based bank now controls 90 percent of shares in Nairit.