In February of 2009 the employees at Sotq deposit went on strike demanding better working conditions and increase in wages. The administration of GPM GOLD Company, the deposit’s owner, promised to settle all the issues, and the employees got back to work. This was not the first strike at Sotq deposit. The employees still remember the strike in 2005 with a trade union, a strike committee, and bringing the matter before the court. The strikers were punished: 470 employees were laid off irregardless of their qualifications, while the trade union was dissolved. Then most employees were hired back to their positions, the activists were sacked, including Armen Sahakyan, Chairman of Trade Union.
New employers, GPMGold Company, proceeded with the practice of the former owners, Indian Company Vedanta Resources. The local activists are well known, they are not employed, and the trade union is not re-established.
Working conditions at the deposit are hard. The mine is exploited in an open-cast manner. The dust containing a number of chemical elements, such as ore, gold, silver, copper, arsenic, antimony, selenium etc covers the whole territory. The employees breathe in this dust accumulating heavy and toxic metals in the lungs and liver. According to the table of chemical impact on environment for different types of deposits, Sotq deposit is characteristic of high level of chemical impact and radioactivity. The doctors in Vardenis consider daily bread a priority and lay aside the risks connected with the deposit’s activity. «...I don’t want to deal with any problem, neither ecological, nor radioactive. I can only see that families are provided with food and children don’t starve,” – said Mrs. Amalya, the pediatrician at the local polyclinic.
People work under hard conditions at the deposit, each shift lasts for 8 hours. (See photo reportage).
Workers bring with them water in bottles. The territory of the deposit and the road are not watered: additional expenses. “They brought cars with water as an exposition. Unloading cars drive to and fro, terrible dust…If the administration finds out that we can complain, we will be fired,” said the truck driver. No canteens, no waste collectors. According to the workers, safety in the deposit is not ensured. “The deposit is in bad condition, almost no conditions. All the soil is taken off, they did God knows what. If a small stone falls down from above, everything will crumble,” the excavator operator said.
Mainly residents of Vardenis are employed at Sotq. Almost everybody agrees with any conditions offered by Sotq administration and does not broach an issue about their own rights. “Till now nobody dared to raise their heads. If you just complain, you will be sacked in 2 hours, if you keep silent, you will support your family, as we have no other job,” said one of the workers. They assure that there is no essential difference between the former and present owners. “They only increased the salary by 15 000 AMD, is this real money for today?” the truck driver said.
According to the census held in 2001, 13 700 people live in Vardenis. “Environment Analysis in Vardenis” document shows that 8 785 people are employed in different spheres as of 1 January 2009, and only 836 unemployed people are registered at the employment centre. These figures are far from reality, as many residents, though officially registered as employees, actually don’t work, or get a miserable salary one cannot live on. Melanya Yepremyan, President of “Astghavard” NGO says that the salary in Sotq cannot be compared with any other job. Mean salary here makes up 85,000 – 120,000 AMD. Meanwhile no social programs, no compensations paid for hard work and for injuries sustained.
Vardenis Mayor Volodya Khloyan tells that Sotq administration bore huge social responsibility in the Soviet times. 43 blocks of flats, a kindergarten, a school, a college, a culture home, a hotel, a canteen, a sports ground, roads etc were constructed at the expense of the company. Sotq paid the expenses for electricity and water. But the present owner, GPM Gold Company, bears no responsibility either for ecology, or employees or the town. In 2008 the town hall brought the company to the court, as the company did not pay property tax in the amount of 1,900,000 AMD (5135 USD). According to the Mayor, “Would not it be better, if the gold belonged to Armenia? Would not it be better, if we were rich? Now foreigners have come, but will they work for our good?”
September 30, 2009