As the BJP-led Centre continues its attempts to quash the state-owned public sector telecom company Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), contract workers in the most of the circles across the country are in further distress, as they are not being paid properly. Even in some circles, mainly in the districts of eastern Uttar Pradesh, the contract workers have not been paid salaries for one year.
In the eastern districts of UP, including the prime minister’s own constituency Varanasi, BSNL contract workers get a very meagre amount of Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,000 as their monthly salary. More than 3,000 workers are there in Eastern circles of UP as contract workers. As per the order of the chief labour commissioner, the contract workers are entitled for the minimum wage of Rs 350 per day – the minimum wage for an unskilled labourer – which accounts for about Rs 10,500 per month.
“The workers are actually paid Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,000 per month, though what they show in the records is not known. Whoever are demanding wages are retrenched including the union secretary. Many labourers have been retrenched so far. How can the worker and his family sustain, if the wages are not paid for one whole year?” questioned VAN Namboodiri, president of BSNL Casual and Contract Workers Federation, while speaking to Newsclick.
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The contract workers are mainly doing skilled jobs like laying cables including optical fibres, fixing faults, as well attending to the several works in office. The scales for semi-skilled, skilled and highly skilled workers are much higher. The contract workers, however, are being paid only the wages for the unskilled labourers, except for a few places like Kerala, where semi-skilled and skilled workers are paid higher wages.
“Except in very few places, they are paying only the unskilled wages, though they are working for more than 10 years, and are to be treated as skilled or highly skilled. If state minimum wages are higher, it is to be paid,” noted Namboodiri.
About one lakh contract workers are associated with the BSNL, and they were recruited through licensed contractors. As Namboodiri observed, in many places, “full wages are not paid by the contractors with the connivance of corrupt officers, and the labourers are exploited”.
As the contact workers have no job security, they are not in a position to question such practices. “The unions have been raising such issues for long,” said Swapan Chakraborty, joint secretary of BSNL employees’ union. “Once we made a complaint that a person, for example Mr. X, gets very meagre salary. But when the report had come, it was said that there is no person with that name. Then only we have learnt that the contractor had used different names, and thus exploited the workers,” he added.
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If we talk about the salary, except in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, West Bengal etc., most of the circles are paying only up to Rs 6,000/7,000 per month. In some circles, even Employees’ Provident Fund and Employees’ State Insurance are not implemented. “The fund allotted on the basis of the minimum wage is expropriated by the contractors. Even after bringing these to the notice of the management, nothing happens, probably due to the nexus of the contractors and the officers responsible,” Namboodiri alleged.
“The general issues of the casual and contract workers were taken up in the Parliament’s Standing Committee of Communications Department a few years back through Shri P R Natarajan, the then MP, and five sittings have already taken place. Still, the issues are pending. No report has been received so far,” he said.
So far, the workers have raised the issues in many ways. In eastern UP, many agitations were organised, including dharnas in chief general manager’s office in Lucknow with the participation of about 1,500 workers. But there has been no assurance of payment of full wages, even as Namboodiri has written to the PM regarding the same..
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