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ISLAMABAD, June 11: The government on Saturday announced June 18 as the new date for the privatization of the 26 per cent shares of the Pakistan Telecommunication Company Ltd (PTCL). Security forces took control of the PTCL’s vital installations across the country to ward off any attempt to disrupt the utility’s network after the action committee of workers threatened to jam the lines by June 15 if the government did not withdraw the decision.

The PTCL employees went on strike and at least 20 workers were taken into custody in Islamabad and Lahore, sources said.

Information Technology Minister Awais Ahmed Khan Leghari announced a Rs4.2 billion package for the PTCL workers at a news conference he addressed with Privatization Minister Abdul Hafeez Sheikh, Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and Labour Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan.

Mr Leghari said the government would give the workers relief beyond their demands.

The labour minister said the National Industrial Relations Commission had declared that a strike called by an action committee lacking the status of a collective bargaining agent would be illegal and warned the workers against resorting to ‘a crime’.

Union sources said law-enforcement agencies were conducting raids on the union leaders’ houses in Islamabad and other parts of the country to arrest the PTCL workers.

At least, 10 workers were arrested in Islamabad till early evening, they said.

The sources said that technical workers were not allowed to enter the premises of the PTCL headquarters in Islamabad’s Sector G-8/4 and other sensitive exchanges throughout the country.

PTCL installations in Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Quetta and other major cities were taken over by security forces, officials and union sources said.

Inter-Service Public Relations director-general Maj-Gen Shaukat Sultan said security forces had taken over the technical control of all the sensitive assets of the PTCL.

“We have deployed the forces after receiving requests from the civil government through the ministry of defence. We have deployed appropriate security personnel depending on the nature of the installations,” he said, adding they included regular troops, signals personnel and paramilitary forces.

The IT minister said the government could not put off the PTCL’s bidding as it would be against the interests of the company as well as of employees and subscribers.

The labour minister said the workers action committee would be taking law into its hands if it tried to observe any strike or disturbed the telecommunication system.

He said the government had taken the workers into confidence and was offering the PTCL shares for bidding after properly evaluating the company’s assets.

The IT minister pointed out that no contractual or regular worker could be deprived of his job under the Civil Services and Telecom Acts within two years after the company was privatized.

He said the relief package included encashment of 140 days of leave every year by workers and 30 per cent increase in their salaries.

At present, he said, the PTCL’s employees took 80 per cent to 100 per cent extra salaries compared to other gezetted employees but still the government had reserved Rs1.6 billion in the package for a further 30 per cent increase in their salaries.

Dependents of the deceased employees, he said, would be recruited in the company while daily-wage employees at the Telecom Foundation, majority of whom belongs to Sindh and Balochistan, were being regularized after inducting them into the PTCL.

Under the package, he said, a 500 per cent increase would be made in the education grant for the children of the PTCL employees and a 20 per cent raise in the workers’ uniform allowance. Loans taken by employees who later died would be written off and a 20 per cent increase would be made in their transport allowance.

The privatization minister said the Cabinet Committee on Privatization had decided to offer 10 per cent of the total PTCL shares to the company’s employees at a discount rate. As only 26 per cent of the shares would be privatized on June 18, he pointed out, the workers would be offered 2.6 per cent of the shares on a discount.

He said any employee wanting to quit voluntarily could be offered a ‘voluntary package’.

He said six big companies from friendly countries would take part in the bidding.

Answering a question, he said the government was privatizing a profitable company because it would be difficult for the PTCL to survive in the present age of competition. The company would not be able to earn that much profit that the government was expecting from it after privatization.

Two action committee members, Malik Maqbool Hussain and Latif Qureshi, told Dawn that the committee had rejected the package as a condition for accepting privatization and said the workers must get these benefits as a matter of right.

They said no proper valuation of the PTCL’s assets had been made and the government was moving ahead with the company’s privatization plan in such haste that would be detrimental to national interests.

They said that workers would jam the countrywide telecommunication system from June 15 if the government did not withdraw the privatization decision.

Another spokesman for the action committee, Azad Qadri, condemned the arrest of union leaders. He said the government wanted to privatize the PTCL at gunpoint and workers would protest to every extent to stop this process.

KARACHI: Army troops took over the PTCL’s international gateway exchange in the city.

An ISPR spokesman said other exchanges would also taken over in accordance with the PTCL management’s request.

LAHORE: Official sources said some 1,050 policemen and a few hundred Rangers had been deployed outside 41 PTCL offices.

They said the personnel of law-enforcement agencies evicted employees of grade 1-15 before the army signals corps took over the internal set-up.

While the workers observed strike, all PTCL inquiry and emergency numbers remained unattended.

Families of some workers said security forces were raiding their houses.

A late night report said 10 PTCL action committee office-bearers were picked up in the city.

RAWALPINDI: Police commandos assisted by Constabulary stormed the PTCL installations, evacuated the workers and took positions on rooftops, witnesses said. Only those in officer grades were allowed to stay inside the PTCL building in the Cantonment exchange while others were directed to leave the premises.

“If anybody tried to create a law and order situation, he would not be spared,” a senior police official told Dawn.

Scores of the evacuated workers gathered in front of the Cantonment exchange, Satellite Town and Raja Bazaar and watched the police moving around the buildings. Later, Rangers reached there to assist the police.

QUETTA: Troops moved into the office of the PTCL general manger, Balochistan region, and asked the striking employees to leave the premises.

Army troops also took control of the Sariab telephone exchange and other installations in and around the city.