The Madras High Court has given small relief to the contract and casual workers of BSNL in Tamil Nadu circle. The court has ordered the BSNL management to disburse at least 30% of the pending wages to the workers before February 20 as an interim relief and submit the details of the disbursement. The BSNL has requested eight months’ time to settle the bills of the contractors claiming that the revival process is underway.
The case was filed by the Tamil Nadu Telecom Casual and Contract Workers Federation (TNTCCWF) on behalf of around 3,000 members of the union.
The contract and casual workers of BSNL have been working without wages for almost one year since January 2019 in different telecom circles in the state. With continuous protests not yielding the results, the TNTCCWF resorted to legal struggle to claim their pending wages. More than 5,000 casual and contract workers will benefit from the order of the Madras High Court.
C Palanichamy, the state president of the TNTCCWF, said, “The contract workers are taking care of most of the services of the BSNL now. From housekeeping and clerical works to tower and cable maintenance, the workers play a crucial role in the functioning of the BSNL. These workers are not paid wages for one long year leaving them under severe financial crunch. This order is just an interim relief for them, but will make them breathe a little easier.”
The representative of the BSNL argued that the management needs eight months to settle the arrears of the contractors. The counsel also argued that a sum of Rs. 13.29 crore was distributed to the contractors for payment of wages till April 2019. The court opined that the workers should not be made to starve for so long without paying a portion of their claim within a reasonable time. The next hearing is scheduled on March 6.
Union Minister of Telecommunications Ravi Shankar Prasad in Parliament had earlier answered that the government is not responsible for the non-payment of wages to the contract workers and held the contractors responsible. The workers’ union, however, blamed the government and the BSNL for delaying the payment to the contractors resulting in the delay of the payment of wages. “The BSNL as the primary employer holds the responsibility for the disbursal of wages for the contract workers. They have to ensure that the contractors are given the money and they in turn pay the contract and casual workers. The statement of the minister came as a rude shock and he literally moved away from the responsibility of the minister of the department,” added Palanichamy.
The role of the contract workers has gained more importance as around 70,000 employees have been made to retire from service on January 31 as per the revival plan of the government. But much to the apprehension of the workers, the government has decided to reduce 30% of the workers. The contract system is set to be replaced by job works contract say the workers. The implementation of such a system could effectively reduce the number of workers and their wages. The state has around 5,000 contract workers working as housekeeping, clerical, marketing, cable and tower maintenance, and security staff among other works.
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