(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
August 23, 2009
Successful Two-Day Strike In BSNL
V A N Namboodiri
MORE than two lakh non-executive workers of the public sector navaratna company, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) are on struggle path to achieve due wage revision from January 1, 2007 and other long-pending demands. The United Forum of BSNL Unions, the apex body of the seven non-executive unions, including BSNL Employees Union, the recognised and representative union, had given the call for 48-hours strike on August 19-20, 2009.
There has been a massive response to the strike call with all non-executive employees participating in the strike. Most of the offices were closed as nobody were available. Thousands of striking workers conducted demonstrations in front of BSNL offices across the country. All the contract workers engaged in BSNL have also participated in the strike.
The United Forum of BSNL Unions and BSNL Employees Union congratulated the workers for their magnificent support to the strike. They demanded from the management urgent discussions to settle the reasonable demands of the workers failing which the unions will be compelled to go on indefinite strike.
Executives and non-executives in central PSUs are eligible for wage revision with effect from (w.e.f.) January 1, 2007. The last revision was w.e.f. January 1, 1997. As far as BSNL employees are concerned, they got their wage revision w.e.f. January 1, 1996 as per the Fifth Central Pay Commission, since they were government employees till formation of BSNL (i.e. in October 2000). Hence their next wage revision is due after 11 years, on January 1, 2007 as in the case of other PSU employees.
The ITS (Group A) officers numbering about 1500, who are DoT employees on deputation to BSNL, got their wage revision from January 1, 2006 in November 2008 along with the central government employees. The BSNL executives numbering about 60,000 got their pay revision settled w.e.f. January 1, 2007 in February 2009 as per recommendations of the Second Pay Revision Committee for executives in central PSEs. The revision for two and half lakh non-executives is yet to be settled.
The committee of Central Public Sector Trade Unions (CPSTU) in its various all India conventions held at Bangalore, Mumbai, Nagpur, Bhopal, Delhi and Kochi during the last three years had finalised the demands for the present 7th round of wage negotiations. BSNL Employees Unions have raised these demands, including some special problems of BSNL workers.
1. No disinvestment/privatisation and contractorisation/outsourcing in PSUs.
2. Tenure of wage agreement should be for five instead of 10 years with full fitment benefit.
3. Relativity between workers and executives in pay and benefits which have turned adverse, should be restored.
4. Fitment benefit should be as given to top executives.
5. Wage rise for Casual and Contract Workers.
6. Implement Promotion Policy.
7. Implement Anomaly Committee Report.
8. Settle issues of BSNL retirees.
While pay revision is on the basis of recommendation of government appointed committee for executives, for non-executives it is settled through bi-partite discussion between management and recognised union/s. As the only recognised union, BSNL Employees Union gave the Charter of Demands and sought early settlement. On one or the other pretexts, the management has evaded negotiations.
The United Forum, of which BSNLEU is the major partner, served notice for a two-day strike on December 11-12, 2008 protesting against this delay. Since the management agreed to start negotiations, the strike was deferred. The initial discussion took place on December 15, 2008, but there was no further discussion after that.
Full preparations were made for the proposed two-day strike on May 19-20, 2009, but it was deferred at the last moment after the management paid 6 months salary advance and also implemented the new HRA rates w.e.f. February 2009, along with a written assurance that wage negotiations would be held expeditiously and all issues settled early.
However, instead of holding meetings and reaching a fair settlement with the employees, the management hatched a conspiracy with certain non-recognised unions to scuttle the negotiation process and defeat settlement. These unions gave a call to workers to submit a declaration to the management accepting its offer on wage revision. The management gave covert and overt support to this shady operation. Despite full support from the management, these unions could not get even 1 per cent of workers to sign the declaration forms. This unfair labour practice on the part of the management of a major PSU deserves utter condemnation.
& PAY ANOMALY
The non-executives in BSNL are granted only two time-bound promotions after 16 and 24 years, rather than financial upgradations. The BSNL Employees Union has been demanding five time-bound promotions in service and agreement was reached for four promotions after every eight years in October 2008. Even after 10 months, orders have not been issued on this agreement, during which period many workers have retired without getting the promotions.
Also, there were certain anomalies/aberrations in the last wage revision on conversion from government payscales to PSU scales, which the management agreed to settle early. However, even after many years these issues are still pending settlement.
& PENSIONERS ISSUES
Around 4000 casual and 1,00,000 contract workers are engaged in BSNL. At the time of corporatisation of BSNL, the government had assured that all casual and contract workers who had completed 240 days work without a break will be regularised. But the management refused to regularise these workers on the specious plea of some judgement of the Supreme Court. Specious because some other government departments and PSUs have regularised such workers during the same period. The United Forum is demanding that the left out casual labour should be regularised as also that both casual and contract labour should get wage as per the minimum of the scale in which work they are engaged.
Similarly the government had assured that BSNL retirees (former DoT employees) will be granted pension as per the government rules. But many benefits granted to retired government employees are denied to them including 50 per cent merger of DA with pay.
The complete negative attitude of the management, as is evident in all the issues quoted above, has created an explosive situation in BSNL. Also, the government and the management are very unhappy that under the leadership of BSNLEU, the entire BSNL workers have successfully resisted disinvestment and privatisation of BSNL. The unions did not allow Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS) of 50,000 workers, which the management had proposed. Now that the UPA government has come back to power for a second term, that too without the need for support of the Left, the disinvestment of PSUs has been made a priority. As is known this could not be done in the first term due to the strong resistance of workers and the Left parties. But the workers are ready now to meet and defeat this challenge.
We seek the support of the trade unions, political parties and the people to our struggle against the anti-worker policies of the government as also for achieving the just and right demands of BSNL workers.
(The writer is convener, United Forum of BSNL Unions
and general secretary of BSNLEU)