Angry workers of a troubled chemical plant in the northern Armenian city of Vanadzor again demonstrated on Wednesday to demand the payment of their back wages for the past several months.
The Vanadzor-Khimprom plant owned by an obscure Russian company is still reeling from the 2008-2009 global economic crisis and the resulting collapse of international prices of calcium carbide, its main product. It stopped manufacturing the chemical compound used in steelmaking and sent most of its 830-strong workforce on indefinite leave in late 2008.
The aging plant, which had thousands of employees in Soviet times, has since operated at a fraction of its capacity. It now manufactures only construction materials and employs about 200 people.
The Vanadzor-Khimprom workers have not been paid for months. A protest staged by them in mid-July prompted President Serzh Sarkisan to dispatch one of his advisers, former Energy Minister Armen Movsisian, to Vanadzor. Movsisian assured them that they will receive one month’s back pay by August 10.
The protesting workers told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Wednesday that the government and the Vanadzor-Khimprom management have failed to honor that pledge. “We have decided not to report for work from September 1 because they don’t pay us, they don’t fulfill what they promised,” said one man. “We can’t support our families anymore.”
Another worker warned that he and his colleagues are ready to take “all kinds of steps” to get their unpaid wages. “A hungry person can do anything,” he said.
The plant’s chief executve, Aleksandr Snegiryov, declined to meet the protesters, leaving it to one of his aides, Artur Stepanian, to listen to their demands for a clear timetable for eliminating the wage arrears. Stepanian told them that he is not in a position to promise anything.
Unsurprisingly, the mood among the workers is growing more desperate. As one of them put it, “Armenia is not solving this problem. What should we do? Appeal to Barack Obama? He’ll probably solve it. I’m not kidding.”
Meeting with the Vanadzor-Khimprom staff on July 16, Movsisian said the Armenian government wants to save the company from bankruptcy and is now looking into ways of reactivating its core operations. Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian likewise described that as “very important” when he visited Vanadzor on August 6.
Abrahamian’s Vanadzor-born predecessor, Tigran Sarkisian, attempted to revive the plant by helping to organize production of mineral fertilizers there. In July 2012, Agriculture Minister Sergo Karapetian and then Energy Minister Movsisian announced the impending launch of the project. It was never implemented, however.