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Armenian Nuclear Plant Workers Set To Quit En Masse

The Metsamor nuclear plant near Yerevan supplies Armenia with about 40 percent of its electricity.
YEREVAN -- More than 160 employees of the Armenian nuclear power station at Metsamor look set to quit their jobs on October 21 after failing to secure significant pay rises from the plant's administration, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Many of them claimed on October 20 to be spending their last day at work at the Soviet-era facility, which produces about 40 percent of Armenia's electricity.

In separate letters, the workers, among them senior nuclear-energy specialists, last month formally asked Metsamor's director, Gagik Markosian, to raise their wages by 50 percent or terminate their employment contracts.

Markosian has still not responded to their letters, trying instead to convince them to reconsider their decision.

Under Armenia's Labor Code, workers are considered to have been automatically relieved of their duties if their written requests for termination are not granted or rejected within 30 days.

In the case of Metsamor, the legal deadline expires on October 21.

Markosian and another senior Metsamor executive met with the 162 employees on October 20 in a last-ditch attempt to prevent the mass resignations. They failed to reach any agreement.

"For almost an hour they tried to convince us to stay on, but it didn't work," Rudik Avetisian, a senior engineer from the plant's reactor unit, told RFE/RL.

Avetisian said he and his colleagues decided not to withdraw their resignation letters.

"They are not ready for any compromise with us," another worker said.

Markosian declined to comment on the development and its implications for Metsamor's operational safety.

A spokeswoman for the Armenian Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources also declined to comment.

Metsamor employs more than 1,700 people, including a 450-strong core staff working at the plant's sole functioning reactor and other key facilities.

They reportedly earn between 145,000 and 443,000 drams ($390-$1,200) a month.

According to the plant administration, the average monthly wage of the workers demanding better pay currently stands at 277,500 drams ($740), more than twice the nationwide average.

Speaking to RFE/RL late last month, Markosian said the state-owned plant currently lacks the funds needed for a pay rise.

With the protesting staff technically remaining Metsamor employees until the morning of October 21, some of those workers had to report to work for a night shift that began at a late hour on the previous day.

Under Armenian law and nuclear safety regulations, they are not allowed to leave their workplaces until the plant administration finds replacements for them.

"They will keep working until the plant administration finds replacements from reserve staff or from among those employees who do not want to quit," said Garegin Khangaldian, another engineer planning to leave the plant.

"People are needed for ensuring the reactor's safety, and we understand that."

Read more in Armenian here