The Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL) management has planned to reduce the retirement age from 60 to 58 years. It has also planned to offer voluntary retirement scheme to all workers aged 50 and above. Both these measures will lead to loss of jobs for over 54,000 workers, which amounts to 31% of the workforce of BSNL. Both these measures are being justified to reduce the losses BSNL has been incurring for the last few years.
The real cause for losses has been the deliberate neglect of the BSNL with a view to privatise it in due course. While all private telecom companies are offering 4G mobile service, BSNL has not been allotted any spectrum for 4G service. This has made BSNL uncompetitive. The other reason is the price war launched by Mukesh Ambani’s Jio since 2016, with the open backing of the BJP led central government, which has led to every telecom company in the country incurring heavy losses since then.
More than 1 lakh workers of BSNL went on 3-day strike from Feb 18 to 20 2019 with the primary demand of the allocation of 4G spectrum to BSNL. The allocation of the spectrum has not been done despite the assurance given by the Minister of State for Communications, Manoj Sinha, in January 2018. The strike was called by All Unions and Associations of BSNL (AUAB) – a united platform of various organisations of workers and officers. The strike was supported by the United Platform of Central Trade Unions, which extended full support to the struggle of the BSNL workers and officers and demanded that the government concede the just demands of the BSNL unions, both on the allotment of 4G and the expeditious wage revision, pending since 2017.
BSNL is the only public sector telecom company offering mobile services in the remotest parts of the country. Further it has valuable land assets, estimated to be worth Rs 1 lakh crore all over the country. BSNL is therefore an attractive target for capitalists of the country. The reduction of workers through early retirement and VRS is being done to make it even more attractive to capitalists, when it is privatised.
The government argues that BSNL is incurring losses due to over-staffing whereas in 2004-05, when there were a lakh more workers in the company, BSNL made a net profit of Rs 10,000 crore. The company made operational profit even in the financial years of 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17. So the real problem is not ‘excessive workforce’, but the policies of the government in favour of the big monopoly capitalists in the telecom sector.
In the period 2017-18, the aggressive price war launched by Reliance’s Jio, with the full supported of the government, led to heavy losses for nearly all private telecom companies. Vodafone-Idea had incurred a loss of Rs. 5,005.7 crore in just one quarter (October to December) of the FY 2018 – 19. BSNL too suffered as a result of this. In 2017-18, BSNL had an annual loss of Rs. 7,992 crore whereas in 2016-17, the loss was Rs. 4,793 crore.
Deliberately turning profitable public sector enterprises, created by the wealth of our people, into loss-making ventures by consciously allowing their loot and destruction, and then handing over these enormous assets to the private monopoly capitalists at throw away prices, has been the policy consistently adopted by the government over the last 20-30 years. This is what is happening in the case of BSNL.
The nefarious plans of the government to privatise BSNL must be exposed and the just struggle of BSNL workers must be supported.