Three employees of Yerevan’s underground metro system were sacked on Friday two days after actively participating in a demonstration against its management’s enforcement of a controversial pension reform.
Andranik Gevorgian, Gagik Galstian and Sevak Hovannisian were among several dozen metro workers who gathered outside the state-run company’s offices on Wednesday to protest against sizable deductions from their modest wages. Like thousands of other disgruntled Armenians, they argued that the reform was suspended by the Constitutional Court late last month.
Gevorgian, who joined the protest despite not being covered by the unpopular measure because of his age, personally handed a petition signed by his colleagues to the metro’s top executives. Speaking to reporters, Gevorgian as well as Galstian condemned their actions as illegal and criticized the Armenian government for initiating the reform.
A spokeswoman for the Yerevan metro, Ninel Vartanian, claimed that the three men were not fired because of taking part in the protest widely covered by the media. “That’s a pure coincidence,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
“The immediate superior of those employees was unhappy with their work,” said Vartanian. She declined to elaborate, saying only that they had repeatedly been warned by the management to “correct their mistakes.”
The sacked employees insisted, however, that they have never been formally reprimanded during their more than decade-long work. They also said that they have received no written explanations for their dismissal.
Naira Zohrabian, a senior lawmaker from the opposition-leaning Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), condemned the sackings as retribution aimed at discouraging other workers from protesting against the reform. “This is a form of pressure and intimidation in a country where unemployment is widespread and people having jobs have to cling to them,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
The BHK as well as Armenia’s three main opposition parties represented in parliament are against the reform, saying that it is unconstitutional. They appealed to the Constitutional Court in December after failing to scuttle the passage of a corresponding government bill. The court is scheduled to open hearing on the case on March 28.
In a joint statement issued on Friday, the four parties urged Armenians to keep up and widen their street protests against the measure. They welcomed recent days’ demonstrations organized by employees of the metro, the national railway and electricity companies as well as the National Opera and Ballet Theater as a “manifestation of our citizens’ readiness to defend their interests.”