Union against BTC sale

SOFIA – Bulgaria’s biggest trade union, KNSB, yesterday threatened to launch mass protests unless the government abandons the ongoing sale of state telecoms monopoly BTC due to low bids and planned steep staff cuts. On Wednesday, Bulgaria’s Privatization Agency named London-based private equity house Advent as a preferred buyer for BTC, the Balkan state’s biggest privatization this year. Advent has offered 200 million euros ($194.6 million) for a 65 percent stake in the aged BTC and plans to cut BTC’s staff to 16,000 in three years from about 24,800 now. «The parameters are humiliatingly low and unacceptable… the planned jobs cuts are an unbearable social price,» the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions (KNSB), which represents about 70 percent of BTC’s staff, said in an open letter to the sell-off agency, the government and Parliament. It said it was ready to launch «mass protests across the country» in case a deal was sealed. Both the opposition center-right UDF party and the Socialists have also urged the government to halt the sale. The BTC auction, which is needed to boost investor confidence in the government’s ability to press ahead with structural reforms, attracted only two bids in late September. The second bidder, a consortium of Turkish industrial group Koc Holding and Turk Telekom, has offered 185 million euros for the stake, but penciled in fewer staff cuts; its bid envisaged reducing BTC’s staff to 20,530 in three years. Both candidates pledged to invest 400 million euros in BTC over five years to raise the network’s digitalization rate and an additional 50 million euros to increase BTC’s share capital. Two years ago, at the height of the telecoms boom, Bulgaria’s previous government rejected a bid of $610 million for 51 percent in BTC, including a GSM license, placed by Greece’s OTE and Dutch KPN. BTC, which serves 35 percent of the country’s population of 8 million, operates 112 telephone lines per employee, compared to a central European telecoms average of 240.