YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–President Serzh Sarkisian’s chief of staff lambasted the management of Armenia’s largest chemical enterprise on Friday amid continuing street protests by its workers demanding the payment of their back wages for the past four months.
Hundreds of Nairit company employees rallied outside the presidential palace in Yerevan the day after the Armenian government pledged to look into the matter as it faced a similar protest.
The chief of the presidential administration, Karen Karapetian, discussed the situation at Nairit with representatives of the protesters and the company director, Vahan Melkonian. The presidential press office said Karapetian “harshly criticized” the Nairit management for developing a backlog of back wages and “driving workers to extreme actions.”
“He was subjected to very serious criticism for putting the staff in this situation,” Karapetian told the protesters afterwards, pointing to Melkonian. “We are obliging them to quickly solve your issues,” he said.
Melkonian, for his part, said he assured the presidential administration that the wage arrears will be gradually cleared within a month. The Nairit workers will be paid for July in the next few days, he said, addressing the crowd.
“If I fail to carry out the president’s order, I will resign,” Melkonian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. The company will likely have to borrow from a commercial bank to pay its 3,000-strong staff.
According to Karapetian, Sarkisian is also concerned about the future of Nairit, which has largely stood idle since March. The Armenian president thinks that “everything must be done to reactivate the plant,” he said.
Melkonian told the protesters that a decision on whether or not the plant will resume its operations anytime soon will be made in the coming weeks.
“We hope that they will decide to reactivate the plant on December 1,” one protester told RFE/RL. “That will mean the plant will again start working on February 1.”
Some of the workers were skeptical about the promises given to them. “I am a longtime employee of the plant,” said one middle-aged man. “There have been many directors, and they have given many promises. They have deceived and failed to pay us.”
“We would again rise up and fight until our demands are met,” warned another.