Dozens of employees of a troubled cement plant in the central Armenian town of Hrazdan again went on strike on Tuesday to demand the payment of their back wages for the past several months.
The workers of the Mika-Cement company accused the management of failing to honor its promises to end the wage arrears, which were given during their previous one-day protest in June. They said they were paid for only one month after that protest.
“They told us yesterday to wait for another week,” said one elderly worker. “Two days [of waiting] becomes ten days, ten days becomes fifteen days.” “The same story happened last year,” he said.
Mika-Cement is one of the country’s two facilities manufacturing cement. It has laid off most 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. Cement production in the plant is said to have stopped altogether last fall.
Mika-Cement’s troubles were further compounded by the 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 since Armavia, the national airline owned by him, went bankrupt in April 2013. Early this year he transferred ownership of Mika-Cement to the Russian-owned VTB Armenia bank in payment for Armavia’s massive debts.
Naira Martirosian, the plant’s deputy director, assured the protesting workers that they will receive their back wages as soon as VTB manages to restart production operations. She insisted that the new owner is doing its best to revive the plant. Martirosian argued that she herself has not been paid since January.
Another company executive, who did not want to be identified, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that VTB is now negotiating with an unnamed potential buyer of Mika-Cement but may well decide to retain control over the plant if the deal falls through.