After months of struggle hundreds of former and current workers of an idling Yerevan chemical plant, Nairit, finally received their back wages on Monday.
Later in the day dozens of them gathered in front of the government building in Yerevan – the main venue of recent protests – to “congratulate each other” on the success.
“We have also gathered here to say good-bye to each other,” said one of Nairit protest leaders Anush Harutiunian, who thus referred to the fact that a majority of workers were laid off still in February when the situation at the debt-ridden Soviet-built enterprise went from bad to worse.
“In any case, we consider this to be our victory, because in the last 15 years there has not been any popular demand that would have a positive outcome,” she added.
Harutiunian said that as many as 1,800 former and current Nairit workers have had their back wages cleared and another 600 employees expected to receive their back pays later today.
Because of financial difficulties Nairit, which is known for its synthetic rubber production, has been idling since 2010. In the meantime, it has accumulated wage arrears estimated at over $10 million.
Nairit workers began to hold regular protests near the government offices and the presidential administration building in Yerevan still late last year. During this period government officials, including Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian, several times would promise to give a solution to the problem, but each time the promised solution was delayed.
Before this final wage arrears clearance workers had to sign documents by which they waive any fines and penalties stemming from salary payment delay.
While some complained about it, most appeared to be satisfied with the outcome.
“It proves that not everything is hopeless in this country,” one former Nairit worker said. “One can achieve a result by struggling,” he added.
At the same time, Nairit workers said they intended to hold more protests in the future for the chemical giant to be re-operated.
After conducting a study, the World Bank last month recommended that the debt-ridden Yerevan chemical plant be put into bankruptcy. But Armenian Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Yervand Zakharian told the parliament on July 28 that the bankruptcy procedure for Nairit would be much more costly for the government than continuing to operate the plant. The Armenian official did not elaborate on specific ways to ensure Nairit’s continued operation. He only said that special hearings on the plant’s future are due to be held in the National Assembly next fall.