London - The British government on Thursday confirmed plans to float the Royal Mail on the stock market, the most ambitious privatisation of a company in the country since the 1990s.
Business Secretary Vince Cable said an initial public offering, estimated by analysts to be worth 3 billion pounds (4.7 billion dollars), would be made in the coming weeks.
The decision would “secure a healthy future” for the company, Cable said, despite strong opposition from its 150,000 employees, who are to be given 10 per cent of the shares.
“These measures will help ensure the long-term sustainability of the six days a week, one price goes anywhere universal postal service,” Cable said.
The Communication Workers Union is to ballot its workers over strike action, with results expected in early October.
Business Minister Michael Fallon said that strikes would not be allowed to derail the sale: “There is no need for strike action - a pay rise of 8.6 per cent over three years has been offered. Teachers and nurses are only getting 1 per cent.”
The exact size of the sale is not clear, but Fallon said the government would sell at least 50 per cent so that the company could access capital markets like other companies.
In a statement, Royal Mail said the sell-off would make it “more flexible and fleet of foot in the fiercely competitive markets in which we operate.”
Even former premier Margaret Thatcher - known for her zeal for privatisation - baulked at the privatisation of the Royal Mail, such was the strength of the opposition to it.
She was “not prepared to have the Queen's head privatised,” she said.
Thatcher famously presided over a glut of sell-offs during her time in office 1979-80, privatizing more than 40 companies including British Airways, British Petroleum (now BP), British Telecom (now BT) and British Gas.
Opposition to the sell-off remains, with many opponents raising concerns about the future of thousands of post offices, which were separated from the Royal Mail as a business in 2010.
Mario Dunn, head of the Save Our Royal Mail campaign group, also said the privatisation heralded price rises and service reductions, which would be particularly hard on the elderly, those living in rural areas, as well as small businesses. - Sapa-dpa