SAO PAULO, June 29 (Reuters) - Unions representing workers at Brazil’s state-led Centrais Eletricas Brasileiras SA intend to fight government plans to sell some of the cash-strapped electricity-utility holding company’s businesses.
“We are totally against privatization. If we see those plans going forward, we will call strikes,” Eduardo Vasconcellos, who leads the National Federation of Energy Workers (Fenama), said on Tuesday.
A downsizing at Eletrobras, as the government-controlled power company is known, is essential because the company’s current financial situation if “unsustainable” Brazil’s energy minister said earlier this month.
The government hopes asset sales will boost efficiency and cut operational losses, allowing it to boost cash for power-sector investments and to pay 40 billion reais ($12.3 billion) of debt.
In recent years, Eletrobras has been forced by the government to take over money-losing distribution utilities in remote and sparsely populated states. At the same time the government crimped its revenue by forcing Eletrobras to slash power rates.
Brazilian unions, who supported many of the policies that led to Eletrobras’ problems, have been stepping up protests since the April impeachment of now-suspended President Dilma Rousseff. Unions at state-led oil company Petrobras held their biggest strike in 20 years in November to protest similar asset sale plans.
Interim president-Michel Temer, who took over from Rousseff in May, has moved to unravel many of Rousseff’s policies saying change is needed to fight a deep recession.
Eletrobras is among the 10 largest energy conglomerates in the world. It controls 15 subsidiaries in Brazil and has large stakes in the country’s largest hydroelectric power plants, besides operating two nuclear reactors near Rio de Janeiro.
Vasconcellos said he had already met Energy Minister Fernando Coelho Filho and made clear the group’s opposition to a ‘privatization wave’.
“This government wants to get rid of state companies and the power sector unfortunately is next in line,” said Fernando Pereira, coordinator of Brazilian power-worker union FNE. He said the labor group is preparing large demonstrations against the plans.
Government plans for Eletrobras’ size have been well received by investors. The company’s shares jumped more than 50 percent since Temer took office.
Seven power distribution utilities in northern Brazil should be the first to be auctioned off to non-government investors. Detailed sale plans have yet to be announced.
$1 = 3.2392 Brazilian reais Reporting by Marcelo Teixeira; Editing by Bernard Orr