Dozens of employees of Armenia’s national electric utility joined continuing protests against a controversial reform of the national pension system with a rally held in Yerevan on Thursday.
The mostly young workers demanded that their Russian-owned company, Electricity Networks of Armenia (ENA), reverse additional social security payments deducted from their wages. Like other protesters, they argued that the reform was suspended by the Constitutional Court late last month.
“We are here to make our voice heard,” said one protester. “They need our consent to make the deductions.”
“The process was suspended by the Constitutional Court. What gives them the right to withhold sums from us?” complained another.
Representatives of the protesting workers met with the ENA management later in the day. According to them, company bosses said ENA will return up to 10 percent of their January wages set aside for private pension funds only if they hire lawyers who can prove that the deductions were illegal.
The ENA spokeswoman, Natalia Sarjanian, suggested even before the meeting that the disgruntled workers take legal action. “If there are people thinking that something illegal has been done they can appeal to appropriate bodies,” she said.
The Armenian authorities insist that the deductions are legal despite the Constitutional Court order. They also say that the unpopular reform is indispensable if Armenians aged 40 and younger are to receive decent pensions after retirement.
Many of the affected workers remain unconvinced by these arguments. What is more, a growing number of them seem ready to take to the streets to campaign against the measure. The past few days have seen separate protests staged by railway and metro workers and even opera and ballet artists. They were welcomed and encouraged by the Dem.Am pressure that was set up last November to agitate against the reform.
Several Dem.Am members were among the people who gathered outside the ENA’s head offices in the Armenian capital. “This is what we anticipated,” one of them, Gevorg Gorgisian, told RFE/RL’ Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “We repeatedly predicted that when people start getting smaller wages the protests will grow.”
Helped by Armenia’s four main opposition parties, Dem.Am last month rallied thousands of people in Yerevan’s Liberty Square in support of its cause. The group led by relatively well-paid and white-collar workers plans to hold a similar rally later this month.