On November 7, a 52-year-old man, K Ramakrishnan, from Malappuram district of Kerala who has been working a contract labourer in Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) killed himself as he was denied his wages for the last 10 months. Ramakrishnan, a differently-abled man, was working as a part-time sweeper at the Nilambur Exchange Office of BSNL for past 30 years. He is one among the seven contract workers who have been forced to kill themselves during the last 10 months.
Over one lakh contract workers across the country have not been paid their wages for last 10 months. Despite repeated requests by the unions to the government to clear their dues, no action has been taken so far.
Initially, Ramakrishnan was working in the Department of Telecommunication and later in BSNL. His wages had been pending since January 2019 and in between, the number of working days were also cut down as per the new policies of the BSNL management. Earlier, there were six working days a week, which had later been reduced to three days a week. This reduction in working days put him—a contractual worker who had been earning a meagre amount—into a deeper crisis.
Also read: BSNL Asks All Circles to Retrench 30% Contractual Workers
On Thursday, November 7, Ramakrishnan came early to his office and after cleaning the office, he hung himself in the switch room.
“It is nothing but a murder perpetuated by the senseless, cruel, inhuman BSNL management and the central government,” said VAN Namboodiri of BSNL Casual and Contract Workers’ Federation.
So far, seven contractual workers have been forced to kill themselves due to the anti-labour policies of the BJP-led central government and BSNL management. Excluding Ramakrishnan, the other victims are from Kolkata and Bengal circles.
While in June, BSNL management had decided to retrench its contractual workers in the name of cutting down “avoidable expenditure”. A total of 30% contractual workers are being laid off from BSNL as per the new policy. Few circles have already retrenched 30% of the existing contract workers.
In Kerala circle too, about 1,000 workers were retrenched. Kerala circle has the strength of over 6,000 contractual labourers in total. The wages of contractual workers are also very meagre. In Kerala circle, the wage of workers amounts to about Rs 10,000 per month.
“But, in certain northern circles, contract workers get only Rs 2,000-3,000 per month. Rest of their wage goes to officers and big contractors,” said Namboodiri describing the hardships of the workers.
Even though this is the general scenario, in certain circles like Western Uttar Pradesh, the workers have not been getting wages for the past 15-16 months. The workers and unions even wrote to the prime minister, Labour Department and BSNL management, and yet no move has been made to pay the wages of the contract workers.
Also read: BSNL Crisis: Non-payment of Rs 20,000 Crore Puts 1 Lakh Jobs at Risk
The case of those contractual workers who have already been retrenched is no different. They were retrenched without clearing the dues and they are still waiting for their pending wages.
However, a group of seven to eight workers from Kerala circle had approached the Kerala High Court to get their pending wages, following which they have received the wages with the intervention of court.
“Workers should have some minimum money for the court procedures. In these conditions, they can’t afford that,” said Namboodiri.
On the other hand, more than 57,000 employees of BSNL have opted for Voluntary Retirement Scheme.
According to 'BSNL Voluntary Retirement Scheme – 2019', all regular and permanent employees of BSNL, including those on deputation to other organisations or posted outside BSNL on deputation basis, who have attained the age of 50 years or above are eligible to seek voluntary retirement under the scheme.
The amount of ex-gratia for any eligible employee will be equal to 35 days salary for each completed year of service and 25 days salary for every year of service left until superannuation.
In the case of contract workers, BSNL’s version is that they have no funds to pay the wages of workers. But, the government last month had approved a sum of Rs 69,000 crore as revival package for BSNL and MTNL that includes merging the two loss-making firms, monetising their assets and offering VRS to employees.
“However, the government has no money to pay the arrears of contract workers who are struggling to meet the basic needs of their lives,” Namboodiri said, questioning the apathy of the government towards the basic needs of workers in BSNL.
Also read: BSNL-MTNL: Revival Package or Plan to Sell?