(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
April 18, 2010
Why BSNL Employees are
Resorting to Indefinite Strike?
A NATIONWIDE indefinite strike of around three lakh public sector telecom company BSNL employees is set to begin from April 20, 2010. This strike is happening at the call of the Joint Action Committee of BSNL Associations/Unions which cover both the executives and non-executives of the company. A one day massive dharna was successfully organised on March 26, 2010 to focus the demands and in preparation for the indefinite strike.
The following demands have been put forth in the strike notice served on BSNL management on March 23, 2010. They are very important issues connected with survival and development activities of BSNL as can be seen below:
1. No Disinvestment / No Privatisation of BSNL
2. No Retrenchment / No VRS
3. No Unbundling of Last Mile Copper & Other Infrastructure
4. No Outsourcing
5. Settlement of ITS absorption
7. Ensure IDA Pension Revision to BSNL Retirees
Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) was carved out from the Department of Telecom Services (DoTS) and corporatised in October 2000 as part of the neo-liberalisation policy of the central government with the intention of disinvesting and ultimately privatising this public sector company. Despite several hurdles created by the government, MNCs and private telecom companies, BSNL expanded and continued as the number one telecom company till 2006. This was not to the liking of the vested interests. Through a conspiracy between the government and the private telecom companies, BSNL's plan for huge expansion through a mega tender of 4.5 crore mobile lines was defeated, thus creating a sharp crunch of mobile lines to BSNL. Devoid of mobile lines, the expansion, revenue generation as also the market share of the company came down sharply. By 2008-09, BSNL lost its overall first position. It came down to 4th position in terms of number of mobile lines. The profits of the company which were over Rs 5000 crore fell sharply to Rs 574 crore in the year 2008-09.
Instead of helping this behemoth PSU to restore to its pre-eminent position, the unhappy situation was utilised by the government to carry out its agenda of privatisation. It appointed a committee under Sam Pitroda, advisor to prime minister and an ardent advocate of privatisation. The other members of the committee were P J Thomas, secretary, DoT and Deepak Parekh, chairman of private sector bank, HDFC.
The recommendations of the committee were just as the government wanted. It recommended 30 per cent disinvestment of BSNL, retrenchment of one lakh workers through VRS, unbundling of copper cables and outsourcing of jobs, all of which were being totally opposed by the BSNL workers. It was clear that these measures were all priority works before handing over this PSU to private companies.
It is in this context that the BSNL workers under the leadership of the Joint Action Committee of all BSNL unions decided to go on an indefinite strike from April 20, 2010. An examination of the demands will show that they are intended to save BSNL and its workers from privatisation, retrenchment and also for development and expansion of the company.
NO TO DISINVESTMENT
The recommendation of Sam Pitroda Panel to disinvest 30 per cent shares of BSNL is unwarranted and is completely against the interest of the PSU and its workers. This is nothing but implementation of the anti-worker neo-liberal policy of the government. The argument that disinvestment is being done to augment necessary funds for expansion has no basis, since BSNL is now having more than Rs 35,000 crore reserves stacked up in banks. Further, the disinvestment amount will directly go to government coffers and not to BSNL. In January, 2006 when the employees gave notice for strike, a written assurance was given by the government that BSNL will not be privatised or disinvested. The government should honour its commitment given to the workers and not resort to disinvestment and privatisation to hand over the public asset to private.
Sam Pitroda Committee has recommended that Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS) be implemented in BSNL with the target of retrenching one lakh workers. To justify its recommendation, the committee has compared BSNL with the private telecom companies like Bharti Airtel where the workforce is about 35,000 only whereas it is about three lakhs in BSNL.
But it is conveniently forgotten by the committee that the large workforce in BSNL exists due to historical reasons and is closely interlinked with the change in technologies, the need to cover the entire country with its lakhs of villages as also the government policy of increasing job opportunities in the pre-1980 period. Moreover, the committee has also ignored the fact that more than sixty thousand employees will retire from service in normal course in the next five years.
These are the workers who have laid lines and cables going through forests, hills, rivers and deserts in the country braving many hazards and difficulties. Many of them have been given regular jobs only after continuing as casual workers for a long period. The government and the management had tried twice to send out 50,000 and 20,000 workers respectively in 2005 and 2008, but the united strength of the workers could defeat their plans. Now also the workers will not allow this attack to succeed.
The workforce is an asset to any organisation. It is the responsibility and duty of the management to utilise the existing workforce effectively and gainfully to expand, develop and improve the services. The unions have given various suggestions in this connection, but unfortunately none of them has been given any serious consideration by the management, since their intention is only to reduce the existing workforce.
NO UNBUNDLING OF
LAST MILE COPPER
The last mile copper wire connecting the main cable with the subscribers place is very precious and important for providing value added services like broadband internet connection, IPTV etc. BSNL has lakhs of km of such copper wires, which no other private telecom company has. The private companies have been pressurising the government to compel BSNL & MTNL to share these last mile copper with them. It will give those private companies access to BSNL cables to provide their value added services. Further, the main strength of BSNL having this valuable infrastructure will be lost. This is the case with mobile towers also, which are have also been recommended to be sold out or shared with private companies.
We are completely against this unbundling of last mile copper as also towers and other infrastructure of BSNL which will be a big disaster for the company.
It is well known to all concerned that the present downfall of BSNL has been mainly due to the capacity crunch of mobile lines. The reduction of 4.3 crore GSM lines to half in 2007 has cost the company dear. It was only due to the one day complete strike of BSNL employees on July 11, 2007 that at least half of the original tender was procured, which the government wanted to cancel on flimsy grounds. But even this was completely inadequate in the cut-throat competitive situation. While each major private company was providing more than 20 lakh mobile connections in a month, BSNL was struggling to provide between five to ten lakh connections, resulting in losing its market share and falling to the fourth from its second position. Had the purchase order been not reduced to half, BSNL could have even gone up to grab the number one position in terms of subscribers.
Again, the conspiracy to cut the wings of BSNL has succeeded. The government, CVC, private companies and the Pitroda Committee has ensured that BSNL Board scraps the 9.3 crore tender which was very much required to restore its position in market share.
The immediate requirement is to procure adequate mobile lines so that BSNL is able to provide large number of mobile connections and restore its market share and improve its financial condition, failing which the downfall will be irreversible.
OF BSNL RETIREES
At the time of corporatisation in 2000, government assured payment of pension to the BSNL absorbed DoT employees and amended Pension Rules through Rule 37A of CCS (Pension) Rules. Accordingly BSNL retirees are getting pension on IDA scales.
After Sixth Central Pay Commission, the central government pensioners got their pension revised w.e.f. January 01, 2006, the date on which pay revision was effected. BSNL executives have already got their wages revised from January 01, 2007. Non-executive employees wages also will be revised from the same date. But the revision of pension on IDA for the BSNL executives and non-executives who retired before January 01, 2007 has not been done. Even 50 per cent merger of IDA was denied earlier. This is a great injustice to BSNL pensioners. We demand that this gross injustice be undone by immediate issue of necessary orders.
In conclusions, BSNL as a public sector company is a valuable asset of the nation and the people. It is the source of livelihood for three lakh families. In the name of competition and parity with new generation private companies, the government and the BSNL management has no right to destroy the company for the benefit of private corporate sector and MNCs.
So, it is time to fight hard to save and improve BSNL, and to safeguard the interest of the nation, the people and the employees. With this noble objective, the workers are moving forward jointly to make the indefinite strike from April 20, 2010 a grand success. We seek the full support of the people in this struggle to save BSNL.
writer is general secretary of BSNL Employees