Hundreds of current and former employees of a troubled chemical plant again rallied in Yerevan on Thursday to demand that the Armenian government reactivate it and pay more than one year’s worth of their back pay.
The workers have pressed these demands during regular demonstrations that have been held in the Armenian capital for the last several months. Their representatives have repeatedly met with senior government officials, including Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian. The workers received only a fraction of their back wages as a result.
The protesters gathered outside Abrahamian’s office in the city’s central Republic Square during a weekly session of his cabinet. They briefly blocked an adjacent street after hearing no reaction from the government.
“We’re fed up. We can’t wait anymore,” said Anush Harutiunian, one of the organizers of the protest.
Harutiunian told the protesters moments later that Abrahamian has agreed to meet with their representatives in the coming days. She said that the Nairit workers will start a nonstop sit-in on Tuesday if he fails to present a concrete “timetable for the payment of our wages.”
“We will come here with our families,” she warned. “We will come with our children. We will come with our grandchildren.”
The protesting workers already held a two-day sit-in in Republic Square last month. Energy Minister Yervand Zakharian said earlier in May that the wage arrears should be cleared by the end of this year. But he stopped short of promising a relaunch of production operations at Nairit, which essentially stopped in 2011.
The Yerevan-based plant, which employed several thousand people in Soviet times, specializes in the production of chloroprene rubber. It has struggled to remain afloat since the early 1990s, repeatedly changing foreign owners and operators in murky deals overseen by successive Armenian governments.
The current government, which effectively controls the plant, dealt a further blow to Nairit workers’ hopes when it laid off 1,700 of them in January.