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Employees Go Back To Work At Armenian Nuclear Plant After Pay Rise

The central control room of the Soviet-era Metsamor nuclear plant near Yerevan in Armenia.

The central control room of the Soviet-era Metsamor nuclear plant near Yerevan in Armenia.

YEREVAN -- Dozens of employees at Armenia's Metsamor nuclear power plant who quit their jobs last week have agreed to return to work after accepting an offer of a 10-percent pay rise by the government, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

The Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources announced the pay rise on October 24 several hours after negotiations held between Metsamor employee representatives and Energy Minister Armen Movsisian.

More than 150 plant employees formally ceased to work for Metsamor on October 21 one month after demanding that the plant's administration raise their wages by 50 percent or relieve them of their duties. They cited the dangerous character of their work and the increased cost of living in the country.

The administration and the protesting staff agreed on a 20-30 percent pay rise during last-minute talks held on the same day.

However, the compromise deal was blocked by Movsisian's ministry. The latter offered a more modest wage increase that was apparently discussed during talks on October 24.

In a short statement, the ministry said the average wage of Metsamor's 450-strong core staff attending to the plant's sole functioning reactor and other key facilities will rise by 10 percent.

All of the protesting employees, including senior engineers, work there.

According to the plant administration, they currently earn an average of 277,500 drams ($740) a month.

"It wasn't a particularly generous proposal," one employee, Karen Karapetian, told RFE/RL. "But we have accepted it in order to reduce tension."

"Nobody is satisfied," said another worker. "But what can we do? We must take some steps for our state and our families."

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources insisted through its spokeswoman, Lusine Harutiunian, that the mass walkout did not compromise the safety of the Soviet-era plant.

"There are no problems with safety, and it's business as usual at the nuclear plant," she told RFE/RL.

Metsamor's sole functioning reactor, which generates nearly 40 percent of Armenia's electricity, was brought to a halt on September 5 for regular repairs and partial refueling.

It was due to be relaunched by October 21.

The ministry statement said the Metsamor reactor is now undergoing final tests and will resume power generation very soon. But it gave no concrete dates for this.

Vahram Petrosian, who heads the Hayatom state-run research institute on nuclear energy, attributed the delay to the mass resignations.

"It's an unprecedented phenomenon, a totally wrong method [of struggle,]" Petrosian said, referring to the walkout. "It could lead to very bad things."