Corporate Briefs

Telecom Austria would invest $2 billion in ST
Rail strike looking less likely as more unions defect
SLK shipbuilder may lay off further 1,000 workers
Publishers want to scrap VAT on newspapers
SPP in last round of tender for Greece gas network
Dzurinda invites US Steel president for talks on VSŽ

Telecom Austria would invest $2 billion in ST

Possible investments of Telekom Austria in Slovakia's telecom monopoly, Slovenské Telekomunikácie (ST), might be as high as $2 billion by the end of 2004, the Austrian firm said in its bid for ST submitted to the Slovak Telecom and Transport Ministry on March 15.
A 51% stake in ST is up for sale in one of Slovakia's most important privatisation tenders to date. Investors have said they will judge the government's privatisation programme by how smoothly the ST tender goes.
Milan Luknár, Director of the Telecom Section at the ministry, said that two other bidders for ST, Deutsche Telekom and Dutch KPN Telecom, had also submitted their bids by the deadline, 5:00 p.m. on March 15. The ministry expects to assess the bids by mid-April, when the second round of privatisation begins.

Rail strike looking less likely as more unions defect

Slovak Railways (ŽSR) Director Andrej Egyed has decided that the firm will pay increased bonuses for March wages in the amount of 450 Slovak crowns per employee, thus matching what he offered ŽSR trade unions' strike staff during wage negotiations, a ŽSR spokesman said on March 15.
The unions went on a strike alert in February after ŽSR management refused to meet their wage demands (at least a 10% hike in wages). In order to call a strike, however, unions have to obey the collective bargaining law, which requires the support of at least 50% of the workforce for a strike to be called. The lack of employee support for the strike has, so far, forestalled this option, with four of eight railway unions refusing to support the strike by March 15.
Egyed justified his decision to pay out bonuses by saying that the volume of transport as well as volume of goods moved by ŽSR was up in the first two months of 2000. The failure of the trade unions to organise a strike, he said, was not a victory for ŽSR management, but for those ŽSR employees who had correctly guaged the current critical situation in the railway's finances. Egyed added that if the strike had taken place, ŽSR would have lost 60 million crowns daily. Now, he said, more favourable conditions for a step-by-step company revitalisation could be created.

SLK shipbuilder may lay off further 1,000 workers

If the financial situation at Slovak Shipyards Komárno (SLK) does not improve, almost 1,000 more people will be let go as of next month, said Emil Machyna, chairman of the OZ KOVO Trade Union Board, at a press conference in Komárno on March 14.
Machyna added the problem of the shipyards does not only stem from the conflict in Yugoslavia, but also from the absence of financial guarantees, without which banks will not provide the credit necessary for the launching of operations.
Talks between SLK management and the Slovak cabinet on the cabinet's extending a financial guarantee were not successful as the owners of the shares in the company were not willing to provide guarantees in the form of company shares to the cabinet in return.
Machyna said it was necessary to put pressure on such owners all around Slovakia so that they behaved not only with capital in mind, but also with some social conscience for what happens to the laid-off workers if the company goes bankrupt.
SLK had 2,670 employees in June last year. If there are no changes in the financing of the shipyards, the company will have to lay off a further 990 employees, a step which has already been announced at the district Labour Office.

Publishers want to scrap VAT on newspapers

On March 15, the Association of Media Publishers presented Deputy Prime Minister for Legislation Ľubomír Fogaš with a solution to the problems of the press distribution market in Slovakia. The president of the association, Miloš Nemeček, said that publishers want the government to help them recover from the collapse of the distribution company PNS, which owes publishers nearly 500 million crowns.
One of the proposals was the eradication of the value-added tax on periodical press, which is now 10%. The publishers also proposed that the Slovak Postal Service introduce discounts for services provided to publishers - a common practice in most European countries, Nemeček said.

SPP in last round of tender for Greece gas network

Gas utility Slovenský Plynárenský Priemysel (SPP) has submitted a tender bid for the introduction of a gas network in Greece, said SPP representative Helena Polaková on March 10. The results of the tender will be published by the end of April.
Polaková said SPP's goal is to participate actively in the development of the Greek gas sector and acquire control over a portion of the country's power market. The tender revolves around the sale of 49% stakes in three companies located in Athens, Thessaloniki and Thessaly.
A total of 18 gas companies submitted their bids in the pre-qualification round, and SPP is among seven companies participating in all three tenders. Only the four strongest companies, including SPP, were able to submit definitive bids in individual tenders.

Dzurinda invites US Steel president for talks on VSŽ

Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda sent a letter of invitation on March 9 to Paul Wilhelm, the president of US Steel, said cabinet spokeswoman Miriam Fiťmová on March 9. Fiťmová said the talks are expected to take place in late March, but a concrete date will be set after an answer arrives from Wilhelm.
On March 7, Dzurinda met Gabriel Eichler, president of Slovak steelmaker VSŽ, to discuss whether US Steel would become a strategic investor in VSŽ. Following his meeting with Eichler, Dzurinda stated that the improvement in VSŽ's recent performance had significantly strengthened the steelmaker's position in the selection of a strategic partner. "VSŽ is currently in a situation where it can choose from among potential investors," he said.

Compiled by Tom Nicholson from SITA and TASR

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