The All Unions and Associations of BSNL (AUAB) hasdeferred the proposed strike of BSNL workers which was to begin on December 3. This followed negotiations between AUAB and the government over workers’ demands. The AUAB has declared that if the government does not concede to their demands, then they would go on indefinite strike from the midnight of December 10.
The AUAB represents nearly 2 lakh employees of different categories, including officers. The officers and workers of BSNL have been waging a prolonged struggle against the moves of successive governments to liquidate this public sector Telecom Company.
The AUAB pointed out that the Central government has refused to allot 4G spectrum to BSNL, even four years after the private Telecom Companies were allocated the same. Because BSNL has not been able to offer 4G services, it has suffered immensely in the competition with private Telecom companies. The AUAB has accused the government of deliberately discriminating against the Public Sector BSNL in order to liquidate it and justify its privatization.
The AUAB has organized two strikes in 2017, as well as a number of All India actions to press for this and other demands. On February 24, 2018, the Telecom minister had assured AUAB leaders that this and other demands would be fulfilled. However, after doing nothing for eight months, the Government had sent a letter to the BSNL management on November 6, 2018 rejecting the main demands of the workers. This is the reason the workers of BSNL are deciding to go on indefinite strike at this time.
In addition to the demand that the government immediately allocate 4G spectrum to BSNL, the workers are demanding wage revision of employees and pension revision of retirees, from January 1, 2017.
The struggle of BSNL workers must be seen in the context of the crisis that has engulfed the entire Telecom industry. Big private players like Airtel, Vodaphone and Idea are running at huge losses. The total debt of private telecom companies is estimated at over Rs 8 lakh crore. Mergers and bankruptcies are taking place. Vodaphone and Idea have merged. Smaller private companies like Aircel, Tata teleservices, Anil Ambani owned Reliance Infocomm and Telenor have either shut down or are on the verge of doing so.
In the shake up taking place in the Telecom industry, Reliance Jio has emerged as the biggest player. Launched by the MukeshAmbani group in September 2016, it has been wiping out its competitors by offering services at “below cost rates”.
The Reliance Jio is trying to establish its monopoly over the Telecom market, after which it will charge exorbitant rates to the users. The workers of BSNL are accusing the government of assisting Reliance Jio in this aim, by sabotaging and liquidating BSNL. They have pointed out that in the past three years, despite being deprived of 4G spectrum, BSNL has been posting profits, as a result of the dedicated work of all employees. Its mobile customer base expanded by over 11 percent, despite offering only 2G and 3G services.
The struggle of BSNL workers against privatization and liquidation, and for their wages and pensions, is entirely just.