Hundreds of employees of Armenia’s largest chemical enterprise again took to the streets of Yerevan on Monday to demand payment of their back wages and a reactivation of their troubled plant.
Erratic manufacturing operations at the Nairit plant ground to a halt following the onset of the global financial crisis in late 2008. The Soviet-era chemical giant, whose main product is synthetic rubber, has since operated sporadically and at a fraction of its capacity.
Only some 500 of its more than 3,000 employees go to work on a regular basis. They are entitled to some pay despite being idle most of the time. Significant delays in the payment of those wages have periodically triggered street protests by Nairit workers.
The mostly middle-aged workers claimed to have not been paid since December last year as they marched to President Serzh Sarkisian’s official residence. “The managers of our plant continue to earn millions [of drams] in wages, while we can’t get our pittances,” one of them told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
“They hold ribbon-cutting ceremonies every time someone creates 20 jobs,” said another protester. “But Nairit has lost more than 3,000 jobs. Who cares about that?”
Hrach Tadevosian, the chairman of the Nairit workers’ trade union, was also among the protesters. He was allowed to enter the presidential palace and meet with Hovannes Hovsepian, chief of Sarkisian’s Oversight Service.
Tadevosian said after the meeting that the official assured him that the Nairit staff will receive three months’ back pay by mid-January. The crowd was unimpressed, saying that that backlog of wages will still be large. “This is a deception,” said one man.
Tadevosian told the protesters that the rest of the debts will be cleared by Nairit’s new owner. He said the Armenian government is now negotiating with the Russian energy company ITERA on a $400 million takeover agreement. The plant located on the outskirts of Yerevan is likely to resume its operations next year, he said.
The government already announced last year that a German chemical company, Chemieanlagenbau Chemnitz, could take over Nairit’s management soon. Rhinoville Property Limited, a British-registered obscure firm that owned the plant at the time, called an international for the right to manage Nairit in early 2011. The tender apparently ended in failure.
Rhinoville lost ownership of Nairit this February after failing to repay a $70 million loan borrowed from Commonwealth of Independent States’ (CIS) Interstate Bank in 2006. The Moscow-based bank now controls 90 percent of shares in the plant.