The state-run telecom company Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) has started retrenching its contract workers in Tamil Nadu, who have served for nearly two decades, with the introduction of outsourcing of jobs. More than 150 contract workers have already been retrenched in Cuddalore district where employees took to the streets to protest the move and were detained by the police.
Further, these contract workers are yet to receive their salaries due since January 2019 even as the Diwali festival is around the corner.
Although the Madras High Court on October 5 ordered the immediate disbursal of Rs 40,000 to each contract worker before November 9, their future remains uncertain.
The BSNL Employees Union (BSNLEU) and the Tamil Nadu Contract Workers Union (TNTCWU) held a protest at the Chief General Manager's office in Chennai on November 5 against the policies of the BSNL and the Union government.
‘WILL FIGHT OUTSOURCING OF WORKS’
The introduction of the outsourcing system in BSNL will result in thousands of contract workers potentially losing their jobs. The BSNL has been taking measures to cut cost after it was left dry of funds, which also led to around 1 lakh permanent employees being forced to retire voluntarily in January this year.
The highly underpaid contract workers are now facing termination from service after putting in decades of work. The BSNLEU and the TNTCWU have been continuously opposing the outsourcing of workers, citing adverse impact of the policy.
Vinod Kumar, Circle Secretary of TNTCWU, said, “The outsourcing mechanism has proved to be a failure as almost 1 lakh landline and broadband connections are being surrendered every month owing to lack of service by the contractors. The same failed model is being pushed in other departments of the BSNL, which will further weaken the company, paving the way for private players to take advantage of the situation.”
After the protest, talks held between the Chief General Manager (CGM) and the office bearers of the unions yielded some relief for the workers. “The CGM agreed to retain the workers in the new contract despite the labour contract being converted into work contract. A circular will also be issued to all the general managers to ensure the same from the CGM office. But we will continue to oppose the outsourcing of work,” Kumar said.
The contract workers of the BSNL play a vital role in extending services to the customers. The Tamil Nadu circle of the BSNL has been utilising the services of 5,328 contract workers and bulk of these workers are currently facing the threat of becoming unemployed.
‘OUTSOURCING WILL KILL ORGANISATION’
Since February, 2020, the customers of BSNL have been complaining of severe interruptions in service owing to the reduction of permanent employees. Given the present scenario, the problems are set to escalate further with the reduction of contract workers.
Though the Union government has announced a revival package for the BSNL, the plans are yet to see the light of the day. The delay in implementation of the package is leaving the BSNL short of funds, leading to further disintegration of the organisation, the union says.
The new contracts have come into existence since November 1 in different districts including Cuddalore, Thanjavore, Madurai, Thoothukudi and Puducherry union territory. The workers have opposed the outsourcing of works taking into account the threat to job security and exploration, but to no avail.
“The cost involved in the new tenders have been cut down by more than 50%. This would result in the reduction of contract workers and the wage paid to the retained workers. The reduction in workforce will affect the already strained services to the customers. Such a move will force the public to move further away from BSNL,” added Vinod.
The workers have been holding several protests demanding the payment of pending wages, implementation of minimum wages and opposing the outsourcing of works, for past several months.
POLICE BOOK PROTESTING WORKERS
The members of the BSNLEU and TNTCWU in Cuddalore district were detained and booked by the police for holding a protest on November 2. The workers and employees were irked by the sudden retrenchment of 175 contractual workers and hence, they took out a protest march against the move.
K T Sambantham, Cuddalore district secretary of BSNLEU, said, “We took out a march to the BSNL headquarters condemning the retrenchment of the workers. The workers have not been paid for the past one year in the district and retrenching them all of a sudden is injustice. We demand to retain the same number of workers with the same pay and withdraw the outsourcing of works.”
The protesting workers were prevented by the police from entering the General Manager’s office and around 50 workers were detained and booked.
“The only relief now is the court order on paying Rs 40,000 to each of the contract workers. This is a minor relief for the workers, but we have a long battle to fight for the cause of the contractual workers”, said Sambandham.
The BSNL remains one of the most affected public sector undertakings (PSU) while the Jio, a product of the Reliance group, continues to flourish under the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party government. The dismantling of the PSUs is taking place at a fast pace, throwing all doors open for the private players, say experts.