Industries minister tells laid off staff this is a ‘great’ opportunity for them to become productive members of society
The incumbent Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government has decided to privatize the Pakistan Steel Mills to reduce the burden on the national exchequer, Industries and Production Minister Hammad Azhar said on Thursday.
Addressing a press conference with PSM Chairman Amir Mumtaz and Managing Direction Sher Alam, the minister said the organization had become a “white elephant” that required the government to spend Rs. 55 billion to pay salaries of employees that had not done any work in years.
“The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) government had shut down its operational works during its tenure in power,” he said, adding that the profit-making institution had started losing money when the Pakistan Peoples Party had been in power following the 2008 general elections. Since the shutdown by the PMLN, he said, the PSM employees had not had any duties to perform, but were still being paid by taxpayers.
“When the PTI government came into power, the Pakistan Steel Mills was facing a loss of Rs. 176 billion, and interest on its debts was also increasing with each passing day,” he said, adding that laying off its staff and privatizing its operations would save the government Rs. 700 million/month.
Defending the controversial move to lay off nearly 10,000 people during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic—when Prime Minister Imran Khan had announced that no company would be allowed to dismiss employees at this time—Azhar claimed they would be given a “golden handshake,” with “some” of them receiving around Rs. 2.3 million as compensation.
“The employees should be happy. They weren’t doing any work before but now have a chance to secure gainful employment and become productive members of society,” he said.
Azhar said that no previous government had been able to figure out how to fix the Steel Mills—forgetting that his own party had resisted moves by the PMLN to privatize the institution, claiming it could not only fix it, but also provide more jobs when it came into power. “Our government had to take a final decision on the fate of the mill in the larger interest of the nation,” he said.
The minister said around 15 parties had expressed interest in taking over the operational work of the Mills, adding that contrary to popular belief, only the operations would be privatized, while the government would retain the thousands of acres of land that were part of it.
Following the government’s announcement of dismissing all employees of the Pakistan Steel Mills and privatizing it, an old clip of Planning Minister Asad Umar has gone viral on social media in which he claims that if a PTI government ever comes into power and doesn’t support the employees, he would side with them and not his government. He has not issued any statement about the government’s decision.