BSNLEU and AIBDPA – Crusaders of DOT/BSNL Pensioners
• Though the III PRC has put the affordability clause for the wage revision of employees, the case is different for the BSNL pensioners. It is not BSNL which pays the pension and the affordability clause cannot be applicable to government. 60:40 condition has been removed and the entire pension is to be paid by the government. In this situation, the 15% fitment as recommended by the III PRC for PSUs should be made applicable for the BSNL retirees and pension revision made accordingly. This demand has already been placed by AIBDPA. This has got full justification. It is also a continuation in IDA pension fixation as before. This is a better and more justified demand than the demand for 14.29% fixation recommended by VII CPC. Shifting from IDA pension to CDA pension has got its own ramifications and future complications.

A fully unjustified and baseless campaign is being made by some vested interests against BSNLEU and AIBDPA stating that these two major organizations of the BSNL employees and BSNL/DOT pensioners are not taking up the issue of pension revision of BSNL pensioners effectively.
We thank these friends for the acceptance that these are the two major organizations of the BSNL employees/ pensioners and also for the opportunity given to us for explaining the actions taken by these two unions on the issues of the pensioners.
First of all, let us understand that these organizations have their respective positions only because of the whole hearted support given by the employees and pensioners due to the excellent performance for settling their issues and taking the correct and progressive path.
Let us examine the issues with reference to our past experience for arriving at the correct line and approach.

1. The unions in DOT which merged together and formed BSNL Employees Union after formation of BSNL, had strongly opposed privatization of telecom services and had organised three-four strikes alone, and then jointly with the 3 Federations, against privatization. They never agreed for formation of a PSU for telecom services. Corporatisation was agreed to by the three recognized Federations, which made it easy for the government to corporatize telecom services six months earlier than scheduled. (The first proposal was to corporatize by the financial year w.e.f. 01-04-2001).

2. Though agreement for payment of pension was made by the Federations with DOT, there was no mention about periodic pension revision. This was utilized by the government which created a serious problem after the wage revisions in BSNL. When the deficiencies in the agreement was brought to the notice of the Member (Finance) at that time by the E.III(N) union, he had stated that the Federations made the agreement in a hurry and that even he had his own reservations.

3. In the meeting called by the Communications Minister after formation of BSNL, V.A.N.Namboodiri, General Secretary, E.III (N) Union, raised the issue of the pensioners. He pointed out the delay in the payment of pension and pensionary benefits and demanded that the pensioners should not be compelled to go round and round the office for getting their pensionary benefits. He demanded that on the last working day of the retiring official, he/she should be given a farewell function by the SSA head and all the pensionary benefits like GPF, Gratuity etc. should be handed over by cheque/cash and that the official should be given the Pension Payment Order and a certificate thanking for his services, a shawl, a suit case with documents and Rs. 1,000 as a token of appreciation. The Minister fully agreed and modified only the amount to Rs.1,001 as it is more graceful. All these are being implemented in BSNL. The token amount has been gradually increased after the matter was taken by BSNLEU.

4. The agreement with the 3 Federations on corporatization was that an amount of Rs. 1,000 / Rs. 1,500 will be paid to all officials in addition to the CDA pay scale. BSNL Employees Union demanded that since BSNL is a PSU, the IDA scale, which is higher than CDA scale, should be given, instead of CDA pay plus Rs. 1,500. This was accepted by all the unions and the wage revision on IDA scale was granted after hard bargaining. All the pay scales were upgraded with the lowest from Rs. 2,400 to Rs. 4,000. However, there was problem in fixing the pension as the DOT was not prepared to pay pension on IDA scale. The government stand was to pay pension on CDA scale only. After continuous pressure and agitation, the issue was settled after a Cabinet decision. This gave a good rise in the pension of the BSNL retirees from that of DOT retirees. Had we accepted O.P.Gupta formula, the pension should have been much less. The initiative was taken by BSNLEU and was accepted by all other unions.

5. As BSNLEU was the only recognized union, the second wage negotiation took place with it. Citing loss to the company, what the management offered was minimum increase of the pay scale, increments, maximum scale etc. Two strikes were organized by BSNLEU and its allies, to pressurise the management for granting better pay scale etc. However, a few unions, instead of supporting the struggle, pressurized the management to implement the pay scales etc, what was offered by the management on the plea that even that payscales may not be feasible if the company continues in loss. However, BSNLEU struck to its points and the management was compelled to sign an agreement, which gave 30% fitment and also a better pay scale than most of the other PSUs, w.e.f. 01-01-2007.

6. The issue of pension revision came up again after the second wage revision. BSNLEU and the Joint Forum/Forum of BSNL Unions/Associations had to take up the issue with the Minister and organized two strikes to get the cabinet nod and the pension revision. This was much appreciated by the unions and workers, even those who had criticized the prolonging wage negotiations. The difference between the pension of BSNL and DOT retirees increased. AIBDPA which was formed by that time, also organized its own agitational programmes for achieving the pension revision.

7. Next came the issue of 78.2% IDA Pay fixation ( 9.4% IDA pension fixation in addition to the 68.8% already achieved). BSNLEU and Forum demanded for 78.2% IDA fixation for employees and after continued struggles, it was achieved, but was not granted to BSNL retirees. Sustained agitation and two days strike on 21-22 April 2015 by the employees only clinched the issue. AIBDPA orgnised several agitations, including an historic Sanchar Bhawan March on 20-11-2014, and participated in all the programmes organized by the Forum, with full solidarity and support. After the meeting with the DOT Secretary by all the unions and Associations on 01-05-2015, the issue was clinched. There was some more delay due to the change of Secretary, DOT, but the matter went up to Cabinet and was settled. BSNLEU and AIBDPA were in the fore-front of all these struggles.

8. BSNLEU, Forum and AIBDPA fought against the unwarranted condition of 60:40 imposed by the DOT, which stipulated that if the pension is more than 60% of the payments made by BSNL to the DOT on dividend, licence fee, taxes etc., the rest of pension will have to be paid by BSNL. At the time of formation of BSNL, the situation was that BSNL was paying more than Rs. 12,000 crore to the DOT and the pension payment was about Rs. 1,000 crore only. Even then BSNLEU had raised the issue and in one meeting with the Secretary DOT, the latter agreed to cancel the same and issued a letter accordingly. But in the absence of cancellation/annulment of the original order it was very much in prevalence. By 2010, the pension payment has increased more than the total amount of payments by BSNL, due to the large number of retirement and the increased pension as also the lesser payments by BSNL. The issue became critical by the time of the demand for 78.2% IDA fixation. AIBDPA met Secretary, DOT and Communications Minister several times and the issue was got focused in the Parliament by Left M.Ps.

9. For payment of the 78.2% IDA pension fixation as well as payment of II Pension revision, many agitations were organized by AIBDPA including Sanchar Bhawan March participated by thousands of pensioners. Many dharnas and demonstrations were held. In addition, volunteers of AIBDPA helped the CCA in many places to ensure early payment.

10. The Medical Allowance for BSNL retirees was agreed to by the management after the issue was taken up by BSNLEU, the recognized union. However, this was stopped later by BSNL on the plea that the company is in loss. Due to the continuous pressure of AIBDPA, the management stated that the employees will oppose if it is restored only for pensioners. The Staff Side (BSNLEU and NFTE, the recognized unions) took up the case in National Council and stated that they have no objection in restoring the medical allowance for the pensioners first. Accordingly, it has been restored to the BSNL retirees from 01-04-2017 which is a great relief.

11. It was on the demand of BSNLEU that the funeral expense was increased to Rs. 15,000. AIBDPA has demanded that this funeral expense should be granted to the family of pensioners also when the pensioner passes away. The argument of AIBDPA that how BSNL can deny funeral allowance to the families of retirees, who have done yeoman service for more than 30 years, when even the family of a new recruit is granted, was appreciated by the management.

12. Now let us come to the latest issue, the pension revision of the BSNL pensioners w.e.f. 01-01-2017. Let us understand that BSNL employees have opted for IDA scale, fought for it, got it and the pensioners also got good benefit out of it. However, there is uncertainty in the minds of the pensioners, whether there will be any wage revision in BSNL and if not, what will be the pension revision for BSNL retirees? This certainly is a serious issue.
Let us look in to the matter thoroughly. The III Pay Revision Committee for PSU executives has given its report and the government has accepted the same. There are certain stipulations in it like no pay revision for loss making PSUs and also an affordability clause for wage revision. As per these conditions, it will be difficult for the BSNL employees to get wage revision from 01-01-2007, since the company is in loss for some years.
The Forum of Unions/Associations of which BSNLEU is a part and its General Secretary is the Convener, has demanded that wage revision for BSNL executives and employees should be granted without delay. While the report of III Pay Revision Committee is for executives, the wage revision for non-executives is according to settlement in wage negotiation with the recognized union/unions ie. BSNLEU and NFTE. Both have demanded early wage negotiation.
The pension revision for BSNL retirees was implemented both times earlier ( w.e.f. 01-01-2000 and 01-01-2007) after the wage revision of employees in IDA scales.

13. There is a feeling among some pensioners’ organizations that since the wage revision for BSNL employees may not be there, how we can get pension revision and why can’t we demand the pension revision on the basis of the VII Central Pay Commission? It means that IDA pension till this time has to be changed to CDA pension revision.

14. In that case, what will be the pension for the employees retiring now? If there is no wage revision, their salary will not increase, many of who are already in the stagnation level, especially those in the lower pay scales and their pension will be less. On what basis their pension revision will be fixed? These are questions which have to be sorted out.

15. The other aspect. If there is no wage revision now, it may be difficult for another wage revision later. This will adversely affect the pension revision of all those retiring after wards (DOT recruitees). Leave encashment, gratuity and all pensionary benefits, including pension will be lower. Accepting such a position will be dangerous and ignoring the future of all the DOT recruitees still in service. Such employees may be there up to 2035, may be less in number. Can we ignore their future and pension?

16. About 50,000 BSNL recruitees are there at present. They will start retiring probably by 2030 or earlier. There are regularized casual labours, about 4,000 or so, who may start retiring by 2020 or earlier. If there is no wage revision for them, what will be their condition? Will they be in the same payscale/promoted pay scale without any wage revision till they retire as is the case of the employees of the ITI, HMT etc. This is a proposition that a trade union worth its name cannot accept.

17. The pension of the direct recruitees are fixed on the basis of pension contribution by the management as per EPF rules. This comes less than Rs. 1,000 at present. That is why the trade unions had demanded earlier that at least Rs. 1,000 should be paid as EPF/NPS/EPS pension.(now the demand is for increased amount). The demand of BSNLEU and other unions/Association for 30% pensionary benefits is not yet accepted. From the present 18%, they have agreed to increase 4% which is completely insufficient. The newly recruited employees cannot be cheated of their justified pension. Either they should be paid defined statutory pension just like BSNL retirees or 30% pensionary benefits should be granted. Even in this case, unless there is a wage revision, their wages and pension will be much less.

18. In such a case, the logical demand that should be placed is the immediate wage revision for the BSNL employees and pension revision accordingly, which will benefit the present pensioners also, as was the case with the last two wage revisions. This may be difficult in the present circumstances, but not impossible. BSNL Unions have the tradition of making impossible in to possible and a history of fighting against the wrong policies of the government. For instance, despite government decision, it could not implement VRS/Retrenchment of one lakh workers, unbundling of cables, selling of shares, disinvestment to the extent of 10%-25% etc. The issues of II wage revision in 2007, 78.2% pay fixation as well as IDA pension fixation, Bonus even when BSNL is in loss, group insurance, supply of watch etc. etc. have been settled despite initial denial.

19. There is full justification for wage revision of BSNL employees. If the profit and loss of the company is taken for its 16 years of existence, it is almost equal. During the last two years, there is operational profit. The net loss has come down. The loss is only due to the huge depreciation. Services have improved despite lack of equipment, workers etc. The wage bill has not increased for the last 5 years, due to the retirement of large number of employees. The productivity is one of the highest in the PSUs. The workers are making maximum effort for improving the services and finances. The CMD BSNL had stated that the company will be in profit during the year 2017-18, (but may not happen due to demonetization and entry of Reliance Jio,), but any way will be profitable by next year. It is not because of the workers, but only due to the anti-PSU policy of the government that the company has become loss-making. Government is in a move to assist the private telecom companies by reducing their dues to the government in ADC, USOF etc.; why not such relief should be provided to BSNL and make it profitable. BSNL management has already approached the government to waive the affordability clause. The assurance of financial assistance at the time of formation of BSNL should be honoured. The excess land and building assets of the company can be leased/rented and income ensured. There are a lot of ways to assist the BSNL to make it better and profitable. These issues are already raised by BSNLEU and other unions/associations.

20. When the workers are in a bitter fight to get their wages improved, it is the duty of the pensioners to support and give all solidarity to them, which will benefit the pensioners also. It is only through the glorious struggles and strikes of the employees that many of the pensioners’ demands have been achieved. Even now, many of the pensioners demands are being taken by the unions/associations of the employees. The pensioners’ organizations can not accept defeat, even before serious struggle has taken place.

21. Though the III PRC has put the affordability clause for the wage revision of employees, the case is different for the BSNL pensioners. It is not BSNL which pays the pension and the affordability clause cannot be applicable to government. 60:40 condition has been removed and the entire pension is to be paid by the government. In this situation, the 15% fitment as recommended by the III PRC for PSUs should be made applicable for the BSNL retirees and pension revision made accordingly. This demand has already been placed by AIBDPA. This has got full justification. It is also a continuation in IDA pension fixation as before. This is a better and more justified demand than the demand for 14.29% fixation recommended by VII CPC. Shifting from IDA pension to CDA pension has got its own ramifications and future complications.

22. For pension revision, whatever the method be, it will require serious struggles not only of the pensioners, but also of the workers. Pensioners’ organizations cannot think only of their own demands, but also has to see the future of the new pensioners. That is why the demand for the wage revision of the employees also becomes a priority.

23. BSNL retirees are eligible for getting the benefits of the Pay Commission recommendations as per Pension Rules, other than pension, which is fixed according to the last pay drawn. The government has accepted the III option recommended by the V CPC, although they refused to implement Option I, recommended by the VII CPC. Implementing Option III, the comparison with the present pay of the employees in the same grade may come in to the picture. If the employee does not get wage revision, what will be the exact benefit that the new pensioner will get? It will be a permanent loss. The existing pensioners will also not get benefit under Option III, since the employees on retirement will not be getting higher wages, which is to be considered for Option III.

24. Pension and pensionary benefits have been won after continued struggles. The case of family pension is also there. The discrimination in pension between Class III and IV etc. could be removed only after sustained struggles. The pensioners were workers and the workers are future pensioners. There is a clear bond between them. Any move to create difference between them will be suicidal.

25. Finally, it can be seen that in all the struggles and actions on the demand of the pensioners, BSNLEU and AIBDPA have been in the fore-front. Individuals may come and go, but the organizations continue for the cause of the workers and pensioners. Any weakening of these ties will be utilized by the government to deny the rights of both. The entire strength of the workers and pensioners will be required to achieve the demand of the pensioners and retirees.