Monday, August 24, 2009

The Historic Strike by BSNL Workers

The 48 hours strike on 19-20 August, 2009, by more than two lakh non-executive workers in BSNL, demanding early wage revision, Promotion Policy, wage settlement for Casual & Contract Workers, full pensionary benefits for BSNL retirees etc. was a magnificent success. It gave shock waves to the management, whose adamant, unreasonable and unjustified stand was the main reason that compelled the workers to resort to the strike.

Discrimination against Non-executives

BSNL is one of the biggest PSUs in the country with about 3 lakh employees including officers. There are about one lakh casual and contract workers engaged by the company since no major recruitment has taken place for the last 20 years due to ban on recruitment. The top level management at Corporate office and Circles (States) are occupied by about 1500 ITS officers, who are still not absorbed in BSNL even after 8 years, but are on deputation and getting both the benefits of government service and PSU salary. Their pay revision w.e.f. 01.01.2006 have already been effected one year back and huge arrears drawn. The minimum salary of CMD was raised from Rs. 27,750 to Rs. 80,000 and maximum from Rs. 31,150 to 1,25,0000. Similar increase has been given to Chief General Managers, etc. The pay revision of about 60,000 executives of the middle level management is also effected w.e.f. 01.01.2007, more than 6 months back and arrears also drawn and paid.

In the case of non-executive workers, who number about two and half lakhs, the management has been taking an adamant and unreasonable stand that they have no right for negotiation but should accept whatever is offered by the management. Their bureaucratic mindset has not so far changed. No trade union can accept such an irrational stand. BSNL Employees Union, the only recognized and representative union in BSNL and other six Unions allied with it, submitted memorandum with fully justified demands for early revision. However, the management delayed negotiation on the plea that approval from DoT, the administrative ministry, is required to start negotiation.

Negative stand of management

On the threat of strike notice for 11-12 December 2008, negotiation started. But since there was not even a single Director of the Board in the Committee no decision could be taken. The union was compelled to give another strike notice for another strike on 19-20 May 2009.The strike was deferred after the management agreed to pay six months pay advance and House Rent Allowance at higher rates as recommended the II Pay Revision Committee. It was assured by management that the wage revision will be settled expeditiously.

Instead of agreeing to the justified demands of the employees i.e. fitment benefit as per top executives for pay + DP + DA (78.2%) ordered by government and Department of Public Enterprises, management proposed lower fixation benefit with 10 years periodicity. The main demand of the union was that the periodicity of wage revision should be 5 years. On the background of the strike notice issued for 7th May 2008, the Prime Minister has called the Central Trade unions and had assured that the periodicity can be from 10 years upto 5 years. The Department of Public Enterprises (DPE) has issued orders to that effect. Despite all these, the management is refusing to agree to 5 year periodicity. In order to delay further, the matter was referred to DoT. The negative and adamant attitude of management resulted in the workers going on strike on 19-20 August 2009.

Magnificent Strike

The Strike was a complete success with maximum workers participating. NFTE (AITUC) and FNTO (INTUC) opposed the strike, stating that they are prepared to accept whatever is offered by the management. They also opposed that the issues of contract/casual workers and BSNL pensioners are included in the demands. According to them, unions should raise only the demand of the regular workers.

Further, they surrendered to the advice of the management to collect declarations from the workers stating that whatever has been offered by management is acceptable. But when NFTE and FNTO leaders went to get signatures on these forms, the workers completely rejected. They could not collect declarations even from one percent of workers. BSNLEU had earlier approached all these unions to join the strike but they had declined. Instead, they propagated against the strike. Despite the combined conspiracy of the management and these scab unions, the workers participation was full.

The strike spread like wildfire all over India. All the offices and exchanges stood closed in the six North Eastern States (Tripura, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur), Assam, West Bengal, Kolkata Telephones and Kerala and no employee attended duty. Strike was more than 90% in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa etc. All over India more than 80% workers participated in the strike.

The entire customer service centres, fault repairs, marketing etc. were at a stop. Only very few top officers could attend office. Many members of the FNTO and NFTE protested against the anti-strike stand of their leaders and resigned from their unions participating in the strike along with other workers.

The Casual and Contract Workers went on strike as per the call of the BSNL Casual Contract Workers Federation. They appreciated the fact their demands were raised in the strike and the regular employees are on strike for settling their demands. The Pensioners Association also supported. In many places the BSNL retirees participated in demonstration and dharna.

The management brought police force in many centres to remove the striking workers who were sitting in dharna or demonstrating in front of their offices. But the workers stood firm and resisted police action. Lady workers took a prominent role in many places.

Support from Trade Unions

CITU, NFPE, BEFI, AIIEA, Confederation of Central Government Employees and Workers, Executive Associations in BSNL and many other organizations fully supported and extended solidarity to the strike.

The newspapers and media gave good publicity. In fact, the management was unable to reply to the questions of the media. Their press statement that the services were not affected, did not convince anybody.

Historic Strike

The 48 hours strike has once again shown that the workers will rise to the occasion to defend their interests. Despite the conspiracy of management and scab unions, more than 80% participated in the strike on the call of BSNL Employees Union and United Forum. BSNLEU has won the verification with only 53% of polled votes, but it could get 80% support of workers in the strike. This is a great achievement. This has to be taken forward for further strengthening of the joint movement.

BSNL Employees Union has raised the demands on wage revision as decided by CPSTU (Committee of Public Sector Trade Unions) conventions and started the struggle. The workers want that the periodicity which has been increased from 5 to 10 years should be restored to 5 years.

This struggle has enthusiased and inspired the workers so much that they wanted the strike to be converted to indefinite strike till the issues are settled. But the United Forum took the correct decision to wait for some more time for the management to settle the issues, failing which the unions will have no other course left, but to resort to indefinite strike.

BSNL Employees Union and United Forum express their thanks to all the persons, unions, media and the public who have given all support and extended solidarity to the struggle. We want the management and government to understand the feelings of the workers.

V.A.N. Namboodiri
General Secretary
BSNL Employees Union

No comments: