60. BSNL IS BORN
Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) was formed on 1st October 2000, months before it was proposed to be, as agreement to that effect has already been reached with the three Federations.
The inauguration function was held near the gate in front of Sanchar Bhawan, headquarters of Telecom Department. Communications Minister in Vajpayee Government, Shri Ram Vilas Paswan, inaugurated. DOT Officers, other prominent persons and union leaders were present. I was sitting in front of the audience, near the dais.
Immediately after the function was over, press reporters surrounded and started posing questions to me like ‘Why you, who have been strongly opposing corporatisation and have organised many strikes against it, are participating in this function?’ Minister was present there. Perhaps he might have remembered his address in the dharna organised by E.III Union a few years back before Sanchar Bhawan, along with Com. Susheela Gopalan M.P. and other leaders. My reply to the question was simple: ‘Even an illegitimate child when born, has got to be cared for.’ Minister as well as press reporters laughed.
In addition to ITI, MTNL and VSNL, one more PSU has been formed in telecom sector. A lot of problems were certainly to arise in connection with corporatisation of the telecom services, so far run by the government. A company will give priority to profit and loss more than efficiency of the services. Stiff competition will have to be faced from private operators.
Changes were inevitable in the service conditions of employees as also in union structure, resulting from shift to the public sector. Rules of recognition will be different. A lot of changes were going to come, for which neither government, BSNL management nor workers were not well prepared. Such was the haste with which BSNL was formed. Probably, the government wanted to form BSNL immediately after the agreement as they were not sure what will happen, if the same was delayed.
Formation of BSNL Employees Union
Consequent to formation of BSNL, recognition granted to the unions and federations were nullified. E.III (N) union had no recognition even before. Management stipulated that instead of the existing unions formed on the basis of government rules, new unions as per Trade Union Act should be formed and registered with Trade Union Registrar.
While separate unions for Officers, Class III and Class IV Employees existed earlier, now unions in the PSU will be for Executives and Non-executives. E.III (N) Union took initiative and consulted some of the class III and IV unions for formation of a Non-executive union.
Following unions agreed to form a joint non-executive union in BSNL: E.III(N) (General Secretary – V.A.N.Namboodiri), T.III ( GS – P.S.Raman Kutty), Telecom Administrative Union (GS- Pabithra Chakraborty), Civil Wing Employees Union (GS- S.Killivalavan), Telecom Factory Industrial Workers Union (GS – Sisir Bhattacharjee), Indian Telecom Employees Union (GS – V.Gopal), Circle Unions of E.IV Union in Kerala (CS – K.Raman), W.Bengal (CS – Dilip Das) and Assam ( CS – J.N.Mishra). A Convention was decided to be held for this purpose.
Accordingly All India Convention was held at Visakhapatnam on 21-22 March 2001. Hundreds of workers participated from unions proposed to be merged in the new union. In the presence of CITU All India President Com.E.Balanandan, NFPE General Secretary Com.K.Adinarayana, General Secretary AIIEA Com.N.M.Sundaram and other respected leaders, BSNL Employees Union (BSNLEU) was formed on 22nd March 2001. It was significant that the date coincided with the death anniversary of the great working class leader Com.A.K.Gopalan, who was always the guide and well-wisher of P and T unions. Office-bearers with J.N.Mishra as President and V.A.N.Namboodiri as General Secretary were elected with inclusion of leaders of all unions. Comrades Sisir Bhattacharjee and Moni Bose were elected as Patrons. Thus BSNL Employees Union was born.
Workers enthusiastically welcomed formation of BSNLEU. Circle, District and Branch Unions were formed by holding conventions of all merged unions at concerned level and electing office-bearers.
BSNL Employees Union was registered in Delhi on 15th June 2001 with No. 4896 /2001. It was the first union in BSNL registered in Delhi.
Pay Revision of employees
The First Central Pay Commission recommendations were implemented from 1946, Second from 1960, Third from 1974, Fourth from 1986 and Fifth from 1996. The next pay revision was expected from 2006. Calculation of DA is done on the basis of cost of living index.
In Public Sector DA is calculated on the basis of Industrial DA. In many PSUs, Pay Revision is done in five years, while in some others it is 10 years. Last Pay Revision was in 1997. Next, either in 2002 or 2007.
The question naturally arose. When the Pay Revision will take place and whether it should be on CDA or IDA pay scale? BSNL Management called all the unions to discuss the same. There was no recognised union or federation, since membership verification was not conducted in BSNL. All unions were treated as non-recognised and equal.
Before discussing with management, unions met and discussed. O.P.Gupta suggested that the CDA scales can continue with a uniform additional Rs. 1,500 for all employees. This was part of the agreement made between the Federations and DOT while agreeing to corporatisation. This amount will not be calculated for any other purpose, including for calculating allowances etc. It can be stopped at any moment.
Since, employees have been transferred to the PSU, IDA scales of PSUs which are higher than the CDA scales should be demanded. was my suggestion as President of the meeting. All except OPG supported. Even Com. Jagan, Asst. General Secretary of Vichare Union, suported stating that ‘though Guptaji is my leader, on this issue I am supporting Com.Namboodiri’s view’. At last, it was unanimously decided that we should demand IDA scales.
I was entrusted with the task of preparing the Memorandum including the pay scales, allowances etc. After going through agreements in various PSUs, including that of MTNL, memorandum was prepared, which after discussion and modification by the unions were presented to management.
Detailed discussion took place with the management and agreement reached. Instead of the lowest scale of Rs. 2,550 it was agreed for Rs.4,000. Highest scale was fixed as Rs. 8570-12,245, instead of Rs. 6500- 10,500. Without another CPC or Pay Revision Committee, this increase was achieved. All the existing increments in lower scales were upgraded to higher increments of the new pay scales. This resulted in much increase in pay packet.
Workers were happy. Just like in any agreement, here also was an anomaly. Due to increase in increment amount some of the senior officials, who have just got promoted got less pay than their juniors who had many increments in the lower grade. This anomaly could not be removed, despite several attempts. Workers appreciated the important role taken by BSNLEU in the pay revision agreement.
It was at this time that Communications State Minister Shri Tapan Sikdar called for a meeting of Welfare Committee. Management officers and all unions were present. Put certain demands including payment of pension and other benefits to the retired employees without delay. My suggestion was that all the employees retiring on superannuation should be given a reception by the top officer of the station. All payments including leave encashment, Gratuity, Provident Fund, salary of the last month etc as also pension orders, a brief case and shawl as also an appreciation letter should be given along with an amount of Rs.1,000 as a token of appreciation. Minister fully agreed with the suggestions adding that instead of Rs.1,000, Rs. 1001 would be given. Jokingly he added that Mr. Namboodiri, a south Indian, may not be aware of the importance of 101, 501, 1001 etc. in gifts. The gift was increased to Rs. 5,001 later. This assurance ensured that the retirees got all their claims settled at the time of retirement time itself. (to be continued).