New Delhi: Within just a week after the rolling out of the scheme on November 4, as many as 70,000 employees of the state-owned telecom company, BSNL, have opted for voluntary retirement, BSNL Chairman and MD, P K Purwar, told news agency PTI. As of November 12, the number of employees opting to retire crossed the 75,000 mark, Newsclick has learnt.
Meanwhile, another BSNL contractual employee in Kerala reportedly committed suicide on Tuesday due to non-payment of salaries, taking the total number of such deaths to eight so far.
BSNL had set an internal target of 77,000 employees opting for the Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS), which is open till December 3. As per the industry sources, the target will be achieved in the next two to three days.
Though the BSNL management is reportedly set to save crores in wage bills, the unexpected response among the executives and employees for the early retirement presents a worrisome picture of the road ahead for the corporation.
Foremost among these worries is the continuity of business as the workforce will be hit severely by the scheme. The current manpower strength of the state-owned corporation stands at nearly 1.60 lakh as of date. With almost half of them set to be relieved from duty by January next year, as per the schedule of the scheme, how the telephone exchanges to be manned and operations to be carried out remains a concern that is yet to be addressed by the government.
In a letter dated November 11 to BSNL’s Chairman and MD, Sanchar Nigam Executives Association shared similar apprehensions, urging the management to “engage the trade unions for constructive discussions and feedback, instead of VRS Mela.”
“More than 17,000 exchanges in the rural areas are loss-making and maintained by the BSNL employees. After VRS, it cannot be maintained by BSNL. It will be closed down before 31.01.2020 as we will not be able to maintain those exchanges.” the letter said.
According to the employees’ front, the scheme will also lead to increased work pressure over the remaining workforce which will have adverse effects over the telecom company’s day-to-day working.
Another equally disturbing concern is the outsourcing of jobs as a solution to addressing workforce shortage. In the wake of the apprehensions raised by the All Unions and Associations of BSNL (AUAB) to the management in a meeting held on November 7, the company is exploring the options on the table, one of which is outsourcing.
“Functions such as plant maintenance and running of rural exchanges may see some impact due to the absence of manpower after the VRS. We are taking care of this through an outsourcing model,” The Times of India quoted Purwar as saying.
However, as per the employees’ front, outsourcing of all the works may not be feasible and economical. Also, it leads to the worsening of the working environment for employees.
Abhimanyu P, General Secretary of the BSNL Employees Union has termed it a scheme to eventually “privatise” BSNL and MTNL, the state-owned sister telecom companies.
“Reducing manpower, cutting employees cost, restoring the operational profits, the objective behind all these measures is to privatise the corporation…In the name of restructuring, the resources will be sold off to the corporate patrons,” Abhimanyu told Newsclick.
With rumours such as retirement age to be changed to 58 from 60 and BSNL to shut down its operations any time soon, the management has created a “fear psychosis” among the employees which is the reason behind the unexpected response among the executives opting for an early retirement.
“The salaries of November have still not been disbursed,” he added, “and the message that it sends to the employees is that if you stay, this is how things are going to be.”
Speaking of salaries, one must not forget that over a lakh contract workers of BSNL across the country have not been paid for last 10 months. As many as eight cases have been reported where the temporary workers, owing to the non-payment of the salaries, have killed themselves. To them, the Modi government’s announced rescue package brings nothing, neither revival nor an end to their struggle.