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Anti-privatisation conference held

By our correspondents
January 01, 2016

Speakers warn govt about social crisis in case of selling SOEs

ISLAMABAD: Speakers, at an anti-privatisation conference held on Thursday, warned that the incessant push to sell state-owned enterprises (SOEs) would eventually result in a social crisis as more and more basic services would become inaccessible to the mass of the population and the state’s role as primary employer in the country would be completely rolled back.

Organised by the Awami Workers Party (AWP) and its labour front Pakistan Trade Union Federation (PTUF), the dialogue brought together trade unionists, journalists, students, intellectuals and progressive political workers opposed to the ongoing attempts of privatisation of SOEs such as the electricity supply corporations (formerly known as Wapda), OGDCL and PIA under the conditionalities of loan agreements made with the IMF.

Addressing on the occasion, AWP Chairman Fanoos Gujjar said that all mainstream parties in Pakistan, as well as successive military regimes had all acceded to the dictates of the IMF and its sister institutions through privatisation and the liberalisation of trade and financial markets.

He noted that this process was initiated in 1988 under the so-called Structural Adjustment Programmes and had continued unabated ever since, and it was only left-wing political forces and intellectuals that had consistently opposed this slide towards ‘free market’ dictatorship because the state must provide basic necessities to all of its citizens irrespective of class, ethnicity, religion, gender and so on.

Fanoos Gujjar pointed out that the disunity of the labour movement had resulted in the sale of major SOEs like PTCL and KESC, and if all pro-labour forces did not close ranks then more of the ‘commanding heights’ of the economy would be de-nationalised.

Labour leaders Malik Nasir Awan (PIA) Hammad Qureshi (PTCL labour union), Malik Maqbool (PTCL Line staff union) Javed Baloch (Iesco), Aqleem Khan (OGDCL), Malik Ismail (ZTBL), Akram Bunda (PWF), Muhammad Ejaz (Radio Pakistan), Nooreen Farooq (Pakistan Steel Mills) and Afzal Butt (President PFUJ) said that it had been ten years since PTCL and KESC were sold off by the Musharraf military junta with patently devastating impacts.

The workforce in both organisations has been slashed by more than 50 per cent while service quality has scarcely improved. They noted that the ordinance recently passed by the government to provide legal cover to the selling of shares in PIA exactly mirrored the PTCL experience whereby 26 per cent of shares are to be floated on the open market while the management will be handed over to the private sector. They rejected Finance Minister Ishaq Dar’s claims that this does not amount to privatisation by pointing out that under private management the public interest is never a matter of priority.

Other speakers included trade unionists from a number of private companies who narrated harrowing tales of the complete lack of protection under corporate laws, as well as a number of students and hospital workers who warned against the dangers of privatising health and education services.

It was also observed the natural resources such as water and forests are also being privatised indiscriminately with irreversible ecological effects. The conference closed with a call for immediate withdrawal of the ordinance to sale 26 per cent of PIA’s shares and all stakeholders presented agreed to organise token and then more wide-ranging strikes in all SOEs slated for privatisation until the point that the government withdraws its plans to sell major public assets.

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