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The press statement of Shri Anupam Shrivastava, CMD BSNL,  that Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS) is required in BSNL to reduce the loss has brought the issue of VRS/CRS once again as a matter of intense discussion among the workers. A few comrades have asked why we could not accept VRS/CRS. The government and management had decided to impose VRS/CRS thrice in the past, but had to backtrack before the strong opposition from the unions/associations. But since many new entrants are there who were not part of the earlier struggle, it will be relevant to point out why the workers and their unions are against the imposition of VRS/CRS.

The following points are very relevant in this matter.

  1. Corporatisation is the first step towards privatisation. Since a government department can not be directly made in to a private entity, the telecom services, a government department, was converted in to a corporation, despite strong opposition from the workers and their unions. ‘Business is not the business of the government’ is the policy of both NDA and UPA governments. Telecom Services is one of the biggest business with lakhs of crores of rupees investment and much more profit. Private companies are there in the field, but they want either BSNL and MTNL should be privatised or closed down so that they can reap much more profit. To justify privatisation or closure, BSNL has to be made loss making and inefficient, so that the public will not oppose much. VRS is a tool for the same.
  2. All decisions taken by the government and management since corporatisation were in this direction. It is thus, that BSNL which was having a profit of Rs. 40,000 crore annually and a profit of Rs. 10,000 – 12,000 crore was made in to a loss making concern reducing its revenue to Rs. 26,000- 27,000 crore and a loss of about Rs.8,000 crore. Towards this down fall, the government took over the balance of about Rs. 40,000 crore with the BSNL citing various reasons, stopped procurement of equipment required for development, did not recruit to compensate the retiring employees etc.
  3. Disinvestment of shares of the company is one method through which it can be privatised, as was done in the case of Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited, which was handed over to Tata. More than 46% of shares of MTNL are already sold and 5% more will mean that the government will lose control of the PSU. That is why, BSNL Unions under the leadership of Joint Action Committee/Joint Forum/Forum orgnaised mighty struggles and defeated the decisions of the government for disinvestment. BSNL is one of the few PSUs, whose share has not been sold at all.
  4. In the same way, VRS/CRS is another way for facilitating privatisation. After privatisation of VSNL, BALCO, ITDC Hotels etc., the new management started retrenching employees in large numbers starting with women workers and SC/ST etc. There was strong opposition against this from the workers. Hence the private lobby is putting pressure on the government that before privatisation itself, the number of workers should be reduced to the minimum so that, the take over will be easy. Instead of permanent workers, these private companies are employing contract workers, daily wagers and apprentices / trainees, thus maximising exploitation. This is another reason why the government wants VRS/CRS in the PSUs.
  5. There were about 3,50,000 employees at the time of formation of BSNL in 2000. Now it has been reduced to about 2,00,000, a reduction of 1.5 lakh workers. About 10,000 – 15,000 workers are retiring every year with only minimum recruitment. Who will do the work? The plan is to employ contract workers, apprentices etc.
  6. The claim of the management that almost 50% of the revenue is spent on salary bill is nothing short of confusing the public. For the last 4-5 years, there has been no increase in the total salary bill, which is around Rs. 14,000 crore. The % has increased only due to the reduction in the revenue from Rs. 40,000 crore to Rs. 26,000 -27,000 crore. If the revenue has increased to Rs. 50,000 – 60,000 crore, the % of salary bill be much reduced. Management and the government are fully responsible for the loss.
  7. Reduction of work force, without new recruitment will adversely affect the services. Wherever VRS has been implemented, as in the case of MTNL, this is the case. The Banks found out that after VRS, their services can not be run and immediately recruited almost double the number of employees who were sent out on VRS.
  8. Another argument is that the workers who opt for VRS will be benefitted by the compensation given. Of course a few lakhs of rupees extra will be received as per the scheme. But if you compare the pension of the employee who took VRS and the person who retires after superannuation, there will be a big difference with the latter getting much more pension since his salary will be higher. This loss in pension will continue through out the life of the person who takes VRS.
  9. Women workers are pressurised by their husband, children etc. to take VRS, since a good amount of money will be immediately available. But the fact is that a working women gets more respect in the society, they have a support from their co-workers at any time and they are also self-sufficient. Work for some more years and  a better pension will be a great help in their old age.
  10. VRS in fact is CRS – Compulsory Retirement Scheme. The question of VRS always comes just before another wage revision. After wage revision, the salary will increase, arrears have to be given etc. This will increase the pension also. Hence both the government and the management wants that maximum number of employees are sent out on VRS/CRS so that they need not pay the increased wages and pension. They think that they can confuse, mislead and blackmail the workers to opt for VRS.
  11. According to the management for implementing VRS in BSNL, about Rs. 18,000 crore is required. From where it is going to come? If that amount is there, it can be utilised for procuring equipment, modernising and giving a better service to the people.
  12. Another aim of the Government and management is to see that the workforce is reduced to such an extent that the struggle of the workers can be weakened and privatisation can take place easily as in the case of VSNL. The government is irritated that it could not implement either VRS or disinvestment in BSNL due to the presence of mighty unions.

In such a situation, there is no compromise on VRS and it has to be strongly fought and defeated as earlier. The Forum of BSNL Unions/Associations have to immediately condemn the move for VRS and ensure that the nefarious game of the Govt.and management is utterly defeated.