YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—The Armenian authorities insisted on Friday that they are doing their best to revive the country’s largest chemical enterprise amid renewed street protests by its workers demanding the payment of back wages.
Several dozen employees of the Nairit plant demonstrated outside the presidential palace in Yerevan, saying that they have not been paid for months and demanding assurances that they will not lose their jobs altogether.
“Wages have not been paid fore more than three months,” Hrach Tadevosian, the leader of a Nairit trade union, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “People don’t know whether Nairit will resume its work.”
Tadevosian and two other organizers of the protest were received by a senior official from President Serzh Sarkisian’s staff. They said he assured them that their concerns will be fully addressed within the next two weeks.
“That includes both employment and wages,” said Tadevosian. He warned that Nairit workers will resume their protest action “if that doesn’t happen in the next 15 days.”
A spokesman for Sarkisian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that the presidential administration is closely monitoring the situation and that “everything is done” to salvage the industrial giant that has struggled to remain afloat ever since the Soviet break-up. It has largely stood idle since April 2010.
The chief of Sarkisian’s staff, Karen Karapetian, already intervened last November to get the Nairit management to eliminate a similar backlog of back wages. Karapetian strongly criticized the company as hundreds of workers demonstrated outside the presidential palace.
Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian mentioned the latest protest during a weekly session of his cabinet. He told Energy and Natural Resources Minister Armen Movsisian to inform the Nairit staff and the public in general about ongoing government efforts to breathe a new life into the plant.
“I think the best thing is to provide maximum objective information and ensure transparency because some people have tried to cause a stir in this area lately. They write discrediting articles, give some directions,” Sarkisian said, referring to critics of his government’s response to Nairit’s chronic troubles.
“Everything is being done in a maximum transparent way,” claimed Movsisian.
It emerged that the Armenian Ministry of Energy and Rhinoville Property Limited, a British-registered obscure firm that owns 90 percent of Nairit, have called an international tender for the right to manage the plant. According to Movsisian, three foreign companies have already submitted bids. The minister did not name any of them.