Hundreds of employees of a troubled cement plant in central Armenia demonstrated on Monday to demand the payment of their back wages for the past several months.
The plant located in Hrazdan, a town over 40 kilometers north of Yerevan, is one of the country’s two facilities manufacturing cement. It has laid off many of its 600 workers and operated at a fraction of its capacity ever since a severe recession in 2009 that hit the Armenian construction industry particularly hard.
The Mika-Cement company’s troubles have been further compounded by the ongoing collapse of a business conglomerate of Mikhail Bagdasarov, a Russian-Armenian tycoon who owned the plant until recently. Bagdasarov has reportedly been selling off his assets in Armenia ever since Armavia, the national airline owned by him, went bankrupt in April 2013.
Early this year Bagdasarov transferred ownership of Mika-Cement to the VTB Armenia bank in payment for Armavia’s massive debts. Artur Muradov, the top Mika-Cement executive, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that the bank is now close to selling the plant to another investor. He said the wage arrears cannot be eliminated before the new owner takes over the plant and relaunches large-scale production operations there.
These explanations were dismissed by some 200 workers who have not been paid since December and blocked the main entrance to the plant in protest on Monday. Some of the protesters claimed that the plant continues to sell cement and earn some revenue.
Muradov insisted proceeds from these are not enough to pay the back wages. He claimed that he himself has not been paid for months. This has stopped him using a chauffeur-driven company limousine, however.
The angry workers making up the majority of the company staff then marched to the administration building of Armenia’s central Kotayk province, of which Hrazdan is the capital. Aides to Aram Harutiunian told them that he cannot meet them before the end of this week. The protesters threatened to go on strike if they receive no concrete promises by Wednesday.