YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Protests against the Armenian government’s controversial pension appeared to be gaining momentum on Monday as they were joined by scores of opera singers and musicians and railway workers.
Staff at the National Opera and Ballet Theater in Yerevan affected by the unpopular reform went on a rare strike that led to the last-minute cancellation of a scheduled opera performance. Hundreds of spectators queued up outside its box office for ticket refunds. Representatives of the protesting artists are due to hold a news conference on Tuesday.
Earlier on Monday, more than 100 employees of the Armenia’s national rail network gathered outside its headquarters in the capital to demand that the Russian-managed company stop deducting up to 10 percent of their wages to private funds selected by the government to manage pension contributions of Armenians aged 39 and younger.
Like other protesters who have taken to the streets in recent days, they pointed to the Constitutional Court’s January 24 decision to freeze the reform at least until its ruling on an appeal lodged by Armenia’s leading opposition parties. The Armenian authorities insist that the court order does not mean that they should immediately stop collecting additional social security taxes pending a verdict on the opposition appeal.
Most of the protesters were employees of the company’s divisions and facilities located outside Yerevan. “We want our money back,” one of them told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “They should raise our wages if they want us to pay more taxes.”
“We won’t return to work until we hear answers,” said another worker.
Top executives of the company called the South Caucasus Railway (SRC) agreed to meet representatives of the protesting staff. They failed to reach an agreement during a two-hour meeting, however. The workers met later in the evening to discuss their further actions.
The protest outside the SRC offices was joined by members of the Dem Em (I Am Against) pressure group leading the campaign against the pension reform. “This is the way to go,” one of them, Artashes Abazian, said. “The railway is not the only organization [affected by protests.] There have also been protests elsewhere.”
The protests against the reform have until now mainly involved well-paid professionals employed in the private sector and information technology firms in particular. Hundreds of them rallied in Yerevan last week to demand a halt to the reform’s enforcement. They too cited the Constitutional Court order.
The court is scheduled to open hearings on the appeal against the reform on March 28.