Three weeks after suspending production operations at a massive copper mine in Armenia’s northern Lori province, an Armenian mining company said on Friday that it has decided to lay off hundreds of workers.
The company, Vallex Group, sent many of its 1,215 employees working at the Teghut deposit on indefinite leave on January 12. It attributed the move to “planned prophylactic repairs” of the mine’s waste disposal facilities.
In its latest statement to the press, Vallex said it will fire most of the workers due to what it expects to be a “prolonged stoppage” of mining and ore processing at Teghut. The company claimed that the stoppage is necessary for the realization of its plans to significantly increase its output.
It said it needs to hire Armenian and foreign consultants for “scientific research” to be conducted for that purpose. That will take some time, the statement added without elaborating.
The Armenian government did not immediately react to the announcement. Nor had government officials in Yerevan commented on the recent suspension of mining at Teghut.
The Teghut mine is one of the largest employers in the unemployment-stricken region. The mass layoffs will therefore deal a major socioeconomic blow to the local population.
Vallex said almost all employees of the mine will receive notices about the impending termination of their contracts. It promised to provide some of those workers with jobs at other enterprises owned by the mining giant. They include a copper smelter in the nearby town of Alaverdi and metal mines in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Liechtenstein-registered company resorted to the layoffs despite reporting a 32 percent surge in its combined operating revenue, which totaled $358 million last year thanks to increased international prices of copper and other non-ferrous metals. The Teghut mine generated over 42 percent of that revenue.
The Teghut operator already announced in August plans to increase copper ore extraction at Teghut. These plans met with strong resistance from some residents of two villages close to the mining site. They said that higher pollution levels have had negative effects on their fruit orchards.
In recent months, environment protection groups have repeatedly reported toxic leaks from Teghut’s waste disposal dump contaminating a nearby river. The company has denied those reports.