Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, BSNL has begun terminating contract workers. In the Tamil Nadu telecom circle alone more than 220 workers have been terminated from service, paving the way for outsourcing. With this step, the reasonable wages and social welfare schemes that were made available to the workers will be eliminated as well.
The Tamil Nadu Telecom Casual and Contract Workers Union (TTCCW) and the BSNL Employees Union (BSNLEU) held protests in front of circle offices against the administration’s move.
More than 6,000 contract workers are yet to receive their wages for between eight and fifteen months with the management making a mockery of the Madras High Court order from February this year in favour of the workers.
Continuous struggle of workers
The BSNLEU and TTCCW have carried out a series of protests against the outsourcing of work, beginning with wearing badges to conducting mass demonstrations between May 14 and May 20. "The series of struggles is aimed at opposing the continuous pro-corporate policies of the Union Government. BSNL has been extending services to the public even during times of emergency, including natural calamities. The move by the government of dismantling its own organisation is highly condemnable,” C. Vinod Kumar, general secretary of TTCCW, told NewsClick.
The retrenchment of contract workers began from April 15 in Nagercoil, Thoothukudi, Virudhunagar and Tirunelveli circles. Circle administrations in Coimbatore and Nilgiris have issued orders for new tenders from May 1, leading to the termination of workers. This continues to take place even while the nation is fighting a pandemic.
Unpaid and terminated during pandemic
However, the contract workers who have been unpaid for more than eight months continued to extend their services to banks, hospitals and the government. They are being forced to fight for their jobs and against the novel coronavirus.
"Emergency calls from banks, hospitals and government offices were attended by the contract workers. But even as they risk their lives during the pandemic, they are terminated from services, violating the advisory of the labour ministry on termination of workers and wage cuts", added Vinod.
The move could set a bad precedent since if the advisory of the Union Ministry of Labour and Employment is violated by a public sector organisation, corporate and private organisations would follow suit with terminations and wage cuts.
Order issued to reduce MPA
Various BSNL circle offices have ordered the reduction of Man Power Assistance (MPA). The reduction in MPA has been ordered across different departments including those involving security personnel, technicians and administrative workers. With around one lakh employees compelled to avail voluntary retirement, a further reduction in workforce would affect BSNL’s services.
C. Palanichamy, state president of TTCCW said: "The BSNL workforce has already been reduced from January, 2020. The termination of contract workers with the intention to destroy BSNL will make customers move away from the public sector organisation. The Modi government has been systematically dismantling BSNL with the motive of supporting private players."
The outsourcing of work will bring minimum wages and social security measures of provident fund and employees state insurance to an end. It will also increase the scope of corruption between the higher ups at BSNL and the contractors, alleged the office bearers of the unions.
Court order violated
The TTCCW also accused the BSNL administration of violating the Madras High court order regarding the settlement of pending wages to contract workers. The court had ordered the management to pay 30% of the total pending wages to workers. However, the management disbursed 30% of total bills submitted by the contractors and the workers allege that wages were not paid as per the orders.
BSNL’s contract workers play an important role in extending the services of the organisation to most rural areas of the country. The Union Government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been trying to dismantle the public sector in favour of corporate telecom players, particularly Reliance Jio. The favours extended by the Centre to the Reliance group are no secret.