BSNL workers protest countrywide

Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) employees protested across the country on 26th June 2020 under the banner of the BSNL Employees Union (BSNLEU).

They demanded that the government should take immediate steps to revive the corporation. This included rolling out of 4G services and implementation of the revival package. This package of Rs.69,000 crore was announced by the government in November 2019, in response to continuous struggles by the employees. The package included measures to enable the enterprise to raise funds from the market. However, instead of taking measures to strengthen the position of BSNL in relation to the private monopolies, the government was pursuing a policy of wrecking the company. The management had carried out the retrenchment of 70,000 employees under VRS with great speed!

The employees have been pointing out time and again that the delay in launching of BSNL’s 4G service is a big setback to the operations of BSNL; private operators were already rolling out 5G services. They also pointed out that stalling BSNL’s procurement of 4G equipment from international vendors on the grounds of “Make in India” was discriminatory and prejudicial to BSNL’s interests. This constraint is being applied only to BSNL; other operators have purchased equipment from abroad. All of this, the union points out, is only to run down BSNL’s operational efficiency and financial viability, so that government can sell off BSNL by declaring it to be loss-making.

The workers also protested the non-payment of salaries to contract staff. BSNL’s contract workers have not been paid their wages for a year, and some even for 16 months. The management has been increasingly resorting to outsourcing to contractors, who are not bound by any law to pay their workers in time. When workers demanded their arrears of salary from the contractor, they were asked to leave. Earlier this year, BSNL was ordered to disburse at least 30 percent of these pending wages in Tamil Nadu, after a case was filed by the Tamil Nadu Telecom Casual and Contract Workers Federation (TNTCCWF) on behalf of about 3,000 members of the union. However, BSNL had requested a staggering eight months’ time to settle the bills of the contractors, leaving workers to fend for themselves throughout the pandemic.

Meanwhile, after the exit of 70,000 workers, the workload on the remaining workers has increased.

The Union has also raised the issue of the risk they have been exposed to in the context of Covid-19 epidemic. The company has neither provided them with personal protective equipment nor with any insurance while they have had to work to support the digital infrastructure of banks and hospital chains. The workers have been carrying out the upkeep of network towers, underground cable installations and management. When some workers tested positive, the management was quick to disown any responsibility saying that they did not contract the virus while they were at work! The workers have argued that they are also providing essential services and should be compensated in case they contract the disease.

BSNL employees are justly angry that they have not received any response from either the government or the management despite repeated appeals and petitions by BSNL unions. The BSNLEU has been relentlessly pursuing the government to take the necessary steps to put BSNL back on the rails. This is a just struggle.