The casual and contract workers of BSNL (Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited) in Kozhikode and Wayanad districts of Kerala are on a relay hunger strike since April 18. They are protesting against the delay in wage disbursal and denial of social benefits by the outsourcing agencies. Among the protesting workers are large numbers of women involved in cleaning offices and managerial work.
The government has been taking measures to wreck BSNL and hand over the telecom sector to the private monopoly capitalists. As part of this plan, the regular employees of BSNL were systematically reduced by implementing Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS) and fixing 56 as the upper age limit for employment. After this, the BSNL management began outsourcing of work through private franchises in 2020. Those workers who had worked for 20 to 30 years were forced to leave the job by the franchisees. For those workers who were retained, the wages paid through the outsourcing agencies were reduced drastically from what the workers were paid before the outsourcing began. The workers are now paid only two-thirds or less of the wages that they used to receive when BSNL was employing them directly as casual and contract workers.
According to the BSNL Casual and Contract Workers Federation (BSNLCCWF) Kerala, the union leading the agitation, the security workers are paid Rs 13,000 per month by the outsourcing companies, instead of Rs 19,000 which they were getting paid by BSNL earlier. Many workers who were paid Rs 15,000 to Rs 19,000 are now paid below Rs 8,000. The conservancy workers are paid only Rs 2,000 — Rs 3000. Other workers, including clerical, computer staff, cable maintenance and technical are paid very low wages.
Apart from this, the workers are being denied Employees State Insurance (ESI) and Employees Provident Fund (EPF), benefits which had been ensured by BSNL during their tenure as casual and contract workers.
So miserable and desperate are the conditions of the workers, that 3 contract workers have been driven to commit suicide in the last couple of years, due to non-payment and delayed payment of wages.
The workers are accusing the BSNL, the principal employer, of not taking any steps to restore the wages and benefits of the workers.
The union has submitted many petitions to the BSNL authorities, over the violations by the outsourcing companies. However, their appeals have fallen on deaf ears.
The contract workers have resolved to continue the hunger strike until their demands are met.