With a total 78,459 employees being sent out of the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) on January 31, 2020—the biggest mass retirement in its history—the public sector telecom service provider is planning to outsource work to tackle with the shortage of manpower.
The mass retirement followed the Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS) which had been introduced in BSNL and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) as part of the revival plan. On October 23, the union cabinet had announced a revival package for the ailing public sector telecom service provider including the merger of BSNL and MTNL along with a VRS package. A package worth Rs 70,000 crore had also promised 4G spectrum for BSNL.
Though the cabinet had categorically announced that VRS would be voluntary, the BSNL management and Department of Telecommunication had been implementing forced retirement scheme, according to the unions. The unions had earlier pointed out that the management pressurised the employees by threatening about the possible reduction of retirement age to 58 years, long distance transfers and increased workload if they would opt to continue with BSNL.
Also read: VRS in BSNL-MTNL, Non-retiring Employees Apprehensive of Employment Terms
However, the BSNL Employees Union (BSNLEU) sees January 31 as a black day in the history of BSNL. “January 31, 2020, is the black day in the history of BSNL. 78,459 employees are retrenched and are being sent home today under the Voluntary Retirement scheme. This is being done in the name of “Revival of BSNL”. It was tom-tommed that the VRS will bring a turn around for BSNL,” reads the statement from BSNLEU.
“The intention of the management is to outsource works. Out sourcing cannot take place immediately. In the meanwhile, they have also issued a letter to utilise the people who have opted for VRS as an interim measure to an extent,” P Abhimanyu, general secretary of BSNLEU, told NewsClick.
When VRS was announced, BSNL had an employee strength of around 1.65 lakh. Since over 78,000 employees retired on a single day, the workforce has reduced to almost half within a day. BSNL management and DoT considered reducing the number of employees as a way for the tackling the financial crisis.
"Approximately 78,300 employees have opted for VRS as per data received from all the circles till the closing of the scheme. This is as per our target. We were expecting reduction of 82,000 headcount. Besides VRS applicants, around 6,000 employees also retired," BSNL Chairman and Managing Director P.K. Purwar told PTI. Around 85,000 employees would be left after the retirement drive.
Even after the reduction of nearly half of its employees, BSNL lacks the required funds to pay the existing employees. The salary for December 2019 is still pending. Though the CMD of BSNL had assured that the December salary would be paid before January 31, it hasn’t happened since the company were not able to get bank loans.
Also read: BSNL: No Wages in 10 months, 7 Contract Workers Kill Themselves
Along with the timely disbursal of salaries, launching of 4G services is a distant dream for the company. The statement of BSNLEU further added, “BSNL is still unable to launch it’s 4G service, 3 months after the announcement of the Revival Package. Still, BSNL does not have money to pay salary, even to those who are going home under VRS. Despite the Hon’ble Minister's claim that BSNL is a strategic asset of the nation, there is no doubt that, everything is being done to privatise BSNL, as is being done in the case of other PSUs. It is our duty to ensure that, BSNL is converted into a profit-making PSU once again and the attempts of the government to privatise BSNL are frustrated (sic).”
(With Inputs from PTI)