KAPAN, Armenia (RFE/RL)–A Canadian-owned mining company has controversially laid off more than 50 of its employees after the latest strike at its ore-processing plant located in the southeastern town of Kapan.
About 250 employees of the Deno Gold Mining, or almost a quarter of its workforce, went on a strike last week, demanding better pay and working conditions. The protesters argued that the recent months’ strong rally in international prices of copper and other non-ferrous metals allows the company management to raise their low wages. Some of them were made redundant just days layer.
One of those employees said on Thursday that at least 30 dismissed workers took part in the strike. “We have heard today another 21 participants of the strike will also be fired,” he told RFE/RL by phone.
The Kapan resident, who did not want to be identified, said the management has sent them letters saying that they are dismissed because of a “blatant violation” of Armenia’s labor legislation.
A Deno Gold Mining spokesman, Norayr Aghayan, denied that the layoffs were a retribution for the strikes that have periodically occurred in the company since its takeover by Canada’s Dundee Precious Metals group in 2006. He attributed them to the lingering effects of the global economic crisis.
“We just don’t have enough work for everyone,” Aghayan told RFE/RL. He did acknowledge that international metal prices currently stand at a “somewhat satisfactory level” but claimed that they are still “very volatile.”
Aghayan also admitted that at least some of the workers were fired because of not reporting for work. “Maybe they didn’t take part in the strike but still didn’t show up for work,” he said. “I don’t know.”
The Kapan resident also said that he and some of his fired colleagues were summoned to a local police station for a “conversation” late on Wednesday. “They said, ‘Whatever you guys do, keep it within the bounds of law, we have nothing against you,’” he said.
Aghayan effectively confirmed that the Deno Gold Mining management was behind the summonses. “We may have only asked the police to keep those people who are not our employees at the moment from entering our company’s premises,” he said.
The company, which mines and processed copper and zinc ores in the mountainous area close to the Iranian border, already laid off 300 employees and sent hundreds of others on mostly unpaid leave in November 2008, citing the collapse of international metal prices. It came close to halting production operations altogether in February 2009 but began gradually boosting output in the summer.
Deno Gold and other Armenian mining companies, almost all of them controlled by foreign investors, have significantly benefited from the rally in the prices of base metals. The price of copper, their main output, alone has soared by more than 30 percent since October.
Official statistics show Armenia’s mining and metallurgical sectors expanding by roughly 15 percent in 2009. No other sector of the recession-hit Armenian economy is known to have boasted such rapid growth.