Employees of the state-owned telecom major Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) will strike work Wednesday in protest against proposed disinvestment in the company, a labour leader said on Monday.
Wednesday is also when the BSNL board meets to discuss growth strategies and the proposal to dilute 10 percent equity, a move expected to fetch around $10 billion (Rs.400 billion).
The decision to disinvest has brought the management in direct conflict with employees' unions, which have threatened to go on an indefinite strike.
"We will go on a token strike on Wednesday, and if the government goes ahead with its decision to disinvest, we will go on an indefinite strike," BSNL union general secretary V.A.N. Namboodri told IANS.
According to him, BSNL did not have to raise money from the primary market.
“It is debt-free and has a net worth of Rs.750 billion… Any bank will give loans to the company for expansion," Namboodri said.
The union also opposes the proposed price band of Rs.300-400 for BSNL shares.
“Who decides what the price band should be? When companies like Vodafone Essar and Bharti Airtel can have a price band of around Rs.800-900, how come the country's number one telecom company is priced so low?”
Moreover, he said, there is no guarantee that the amount raised will be ploughed into BSNL.
“The amount will go to the government and this might not necessarily be used for BSNL's expansion,” he said, to explain why his union was opposing disinvestment.
"Telecom companies like MTNL (Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd), Hindustan Cables and ITI Ltd who listed themselves on the stock exchange are now loss-making companies for the past five years," Namboodri said.
He said the union has conveyed its opposition to disinvestment in submissions made to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Telecom Minister A. Raja, Telecom Secretary Siddhartha Behura and the BSNL management.
“We have been assured by the telecom minister that the government will not proceed without the trade union's consent," Namboodri said.
Though the company's 304,000 employees have been offered 500 shares each at Rs.10 a share, Namboodri said it was a “bait” to lure them. “But nothing will get us to accept this offer".