YEREVEN -- Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian's chief of staff has criticized the management of the country's largest chemical enterprise amid continuing street protests by company workers demanding back pay, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.
Hundreds of employees of the Nairit company rallied outside the presidential palace in Yerevan on November 12, the day after the government pledged to look into the matter following a similar protest.
Presidential Chief of Staff Karen Karapetian discussed the situation at Nairit on November 12 with representatives of the protesters and the company director, Vahan Melkonian. The Presidential Press Office said Karapetian "harshly criticized" Nairit's management for the backlog of unpaid wages and "driving workers to extreme actions."
"[Melkonian] was subjected to very serious criticism for putting the staff in this situation," Karapetian told the protesters afterwards. "We are obliging them to quickly solve your issues."
Melkonian, for his part, said he assured the government the wage arrears will be cleared within a month. 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. The company will likely have to borrow from a commercial bank to pay its 3,000-strong staff.
Karapetian said Sarkisian is concerned about the future of Nairit, which has largely been idle since March. He said Sarkisian thinks "everything must be done to reactivate the plant."
Melkonian told protesters that a decision on whether or not the plant will resume its operations soon will be made in the coming weeks.
"We hope that they will decide to reactivate the plant on December 1," a 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.