Polish workers fear foreign takeovers

Issue 

Polish workers fear foreign takeovers

By Anne Olson

WARSAW — when a high-level US mission arrived here recently to determine why there is not more foreign investment in Poland, there was a single recurring complaint: the investors felt they were not welcome.

While the Polish government is desperately wooing Western capital, the Polish media have been full of stories of deals that are going sour, or sales at far below the market price.

The latest revelations concern the sale of Bistona, a textile works based in Lodz. The Supreme Chamber of Control, Poland's top auditing body, has recommended the dismissal of the vice minister of industry and two other top state officials for approving the sale of Bistona to Legler-Polonia, a Polish-Italian firm.

According to the chamber, the ministry appraised Bistona at far below its market value, resulting in its sale for $2 million instead of the $20 million the chamber thought it was worth.

In their defence, the ministry officials say Legler-Polonia has promised to invest $140 million and eventually employ 3600 people. However, the firm has begun laying off several hundred employees.

Another example is the purchase by the US Pepsico conglomerate of Wedel, Poland's best known confectioner. Pepsico paid $25 million for the firm, and expects to invest another $56 million over the next five years — the largest foreign investment to date.

But almost a year has passed since the signing of an agreement between wedel and Pepsico, and

according to workers, few of the promises regarding new equipment and other improvements have materialised.

The employees are getting anxious because of the lack of information, especially since there are reports that 20% of the staff will be laid off.

The purchase by the US baby food company Gerber of Alima, a fruit and vegetable processing plant in south-eastern Poland, aroused controversy from the very beginning.

Alima's book value was listed at 227 billion zloties ($19 million), while the overall value of shares paid by Gerber was 210 billion zloties.

A privatisation ministry official pointed out that a company is worth only as much as someone is willing to pay for it. He said the negotiations continued for several months, and all sides were satisfied with the final deal.

Employees question why alima, which was prosperous, had to be sold at all. They also point out they were not even informed of the sale until after it was completed.
[From Inter Press Service/Pegasus.]