Chennai: Contract and casual workers of public sector telecom major BSNL’s Tamil Nadu circle are on a three-day strike from Thursday reiterating their demand for pending wages, among others. The strike is led by the Tamil Nadu Telecom Contract and Casual Workers Union (TNTCWU).
Despite various struggles and protests, the hard-earned wages for contract and casual workers are pending for up to a maximum of eight months in the state, reflecting the apathy of the Union government and the BSNL management.
The number of months for unpaid wages varies in different telecom circles, with the Nagercoil circle leading with a maximum of eight months.
The assistant general secretary of BSNL Casual and Contract Workers Federation, C Palanichamy, told NewsClick, “The second tenure of the Narendra Modi government is trying to finish off BSNL once and for all. The permanent employees and contract workers are suffering due to the corporate-friendly approach of the Modi government,” adding that the three-day strike was meant to convey the anger of the poor contract workers, who are unable to meet their day-to-day expenses.
REDUCTION IN WORKING DAYS AND WORKERS
The BSNL management has proposed to reduce the number of contract workers and the number of working days as a means to reduce its financial burden. In Tamil Nadu, the telecom company has been utilising the services of around 5,000 contract workers. With an existing shortage in staff strength, any such reduction in the number of workers will lead to disruption of various BSNL services, said union sources, adding that this would force customers to shift to private service providers.
The proposed reduction in number of working days would effectively reduce the monthly wages of workers, pushing them further into financial distress. Various trade unions are, therefore, demanding a minimum of Rs. 18,000 as monthly wages, but the BSNL is trying to reduce wages further by reducing the number of working days.
CORPORATE-FRIENDLY MODI GOVERNMENT
The 100-day action plan of the second National Democratic Alliance government has privatisation plans for many public sector undertakings (PSUs). BSNL was thrown out of gear with the entry of Jio, a product of Reliance group, during the Modi 1.0 regime itself. Predatory pricing and extension of free schemes to customers in the name of welcome offers, violating the norms of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), benefited Jio, leaving other telecom service providers far behind in the competition.
“TRAI has been a mere spectator of the violations by Jio. It has to ensure a level playing field for all service providers, but it has been extending unfair support to Jio. No action has been taken against the Reliance group for the violations affecting other service providers. We need to remember that BSNL is the only operator that provides services during natural calamities in Tamil Nadu and other states, while private companies prefer profit over service”, said Palanichamy.
SURVIVAL OF BSNL AT STAKE
Such policies have pushed BSNL into debt in the past four years in spite of the continuous increase in its subscriber base. The public sector major is now struggling to pay wages to both contract and permanent workers, while the Union government continues to fiddle. The BSNL Employees Union said it had submitted a number of proposals to revive the company, but everything fell on the deaf ears of this corporate-friendly government.