Many Walk Out Demanding Restoration of Pay at Canadian Mining Plant in Armenia

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–About a hundred workers of a Canadian-owned mining plant in southeastern Armenia have refused to show up for work on Monday morning in what they described as the start of a possible large-scale strike for a pay rise.

The Deno Gold Mining Company near the town of Ghapan, employing about 1,500 local residents, slashed about 300 jobs and sent hundreds of others on mostly unpaid leave as it considerably scaled down its operations last November, citing a sharp decrease in international prices for non-ferrous metals. The company administration decreased the wages of most of the remaining staff by half as the plant continued to operate at only 20 percent of its capacity.

With the restoration of the operation capacity, many workers have begun asking for the restoration of their full wages as well.

“They are paying us a fraction of our wages now. For eight months we have received half of our former wages, but the volume of work has now been restored,” one worker told RFE/RL.

“About a hundred people have refused to work this morning and since these workers are engaged in basic operations, the enterprise’s work will stop without them,” he said, adding that the protest might grow into a full-scale strike unless their demands for a restoration of wages were met.

The company, purchased by Canada’s Dundee Precious Metals group in 2006, has for decades mined and processed copper and molybdenum in the mountainous area close to the Armenian-Iranian border. It is Ghapan’s single largest employer.

Last Friday, Deno Gold Mining Company Director General Robert Falletta announced a bonus scheme that he said would prevent an employee walkout.

On Monday, the director offered a monthly pay rise to workers by an equivalent of about $15 as part of the announced bonus payment package.

Yet, the protesting employees called it unfair considering the cut of the nightshift extra payments by an equivalent of about $110.

The company’s liaison officer Rubina Ter-Martirosian told RFE/RL in the afternoon new offers would be made for the purpose of reengaging the disgruntled workers.

“These are people to whom terms of the bonus project have not yet been presented,” said Ter-Martirosian, adding that the administration was preparing a new offer.

Later, several company workers told RFE/RL that Deno Gold Mining in fact had made the same offer to them.

A company spokesman explained that copies of the offer had been distributed among all workers so that they could “study the details.”

The workers, however, insisted on continuing their strike.

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