The contract workers of Bharat Sanchar Nigan Limited (BSNL) Nagercoil telecom circle in Tamil Nadu on Wednesday launched another three-day hunger strike to assert their demands. The workers are demanding their wages that have been pending for the past 10 months, as they protest against the move to reduce the number of contract workers and reduction in working time.
The contract workers have already conducted a three-day strike demonstration with their family members. The Tamil Nadu Telecom Contract and Casual Workers Union (TNTCWU) is leading the strike with the support of the BSNL Employees Union (BSNLEU).
WAGES UNPAID FOR 10 MONTHS
The life of the workers have been thrown out of gear by the apathetic attitude of the BSNL management and the policies pursued by the union government.
The non-payment of salaries has forced the contract workers to lead a life of misery. With meagre wages and no social security, they struggle to find money for education, healthcare or even day to day expenses. The unions allege that the BSNL management has not sanctioned enough funds to the contractors who employ the contract workers.
The Nagercoil telecom circle is one of the top performing circles in the state with around 9 lakh mobile network subscribers, 25,000 broadband users and 52,000 landline connections. There are around 250 permanent and 250 contractual workers employed for the circle.
With the newly launched voluntary retirement scheme for the permanent workers of age above 50, the number of permanent workers is set to reduce further. The contract workers also allege that the present contracts are not renewed, implying end of the road for a large number of contract workers. The services provided by BSNL would take a beating on account of reduction in workforce, forcing the subscribers to shift to other private service providers.
The TNTCWU has condemned the arbitrary move by BSNL to end the contracts, affecting lives of the workers and their families. P Raju, district secretary of the BSNLEU, while speaking to NewsClick, said, “The contract workers play a major role in almost all the departments of BSNL including service, operations, accounts and security. The move to terminate them without any prior notice and denying them salary for 10 months is against the law of the land and is inhuman too.”
A contract worker said, “The BSNL and the government are working against their own organisation. The government never acted as per the law when Jio was breaking all the rules by predatory pricing. Our families are suffering due to this attitude of the government. We are unable to meet our day to day expenses without salary.”
REVIVAL OR PRIVATISATION?
The revival package and the merger of BSNL and MTNL announced by Union Minister for Communications Ravi Shankar Prasad too have raised apprehensions over the future of the entities. The employees and executives from both the companies fear that the merger and reduction in workforce could lead to privatisation.
The officebearers of the unions have also cited absence of level playing field for the BSNL leading to losses in the recent times. The self-inflicted losses due to the policies of the Modi government and the favours granted to Reliance Group have destroyed BSNL to a large extent, they feel.
FUTURE AT STAKE
The contract workers of Tamil Nadu telecom circle have conducted numerous struggles to attract the attention of the government, but they continue to be neglected while the private corporate players continue to enjoy the patronage.
The contract workers numbering to around 75,000 across the country along with the permanent workers face the same fate of abandonment by BSNL, facilitated by the central government, literally paving the way for Jio to become a monopoly in the telecom sector.