BSNL Management decided to conduct membership verification for non-executive unions to find out the majority union for grant of recognition. Since formation of BSNL, recognition to the existing unions were cancelled and there was no recognized union.
Meeting was held with all the unions in the presence of the Chief Labour Commissioner (CLC), to discuss and decide modality of verification. One issue was whether verification should be conducted as per ‘Check off’ or ‘Secret Ballot’ system. NFTE suggested ‘check off’ system. BSNLEU demanded ‘secret ballot’ pointing out the manipulation, favouritism by officers etc. in the earlier verification. CLC agreed and decided that the membership verification will be by secret ballot only. All the newly registered unions applied for participation in the verification. They were given election symbols as suggested by them.
The union with maximum membership was NFTE. Although KG Bose group had majority in E.III Union, this was changed in the new set up with unions formed with all non-executive unions. The big majority for OPG group in E.IV Union turned the table in its favour. Considering this disadvantage, BSNLEU made election understanding with three comparatively small unions viz. Telecom Employees Progressive Union (TEPU), SC/ST Employees Association and BSNL Workers Rashtriya Union (WRU). The understanding was that the names of these unions will be in the ballot paper, but their members will vote for BSNLEU.
Leaders and workers of BSNLEU actively utilized the available time to tour, hold meetings and meet the workers for getting maximum support and vote. Continuous tour programmes, day and night included. Effort to make a change from an unrecognized union to a recognized union. As General Secretary, BSNLEU, toured almost all the states. All CHQ office-bearers were also on tours, attending many meetings.
General Manager (SR) Shri R.N.Prabhakar was the Chief Returning Officer. Since this was the first Membership Verification in BSNL, there were many doubts being raised now and then on which decisions were to be taken. We discussed these issues for taking the correct decision. My continued interactions were appreciated by the CRO.
Polling was on 25th September 2002. About 3 lakh voters. 2250 polling stations. About 10,000 officials including Presiding Officers, Polling Officers etc. Ballot boxes from Election Commission. About 750 Labour Officers as observers. Arrangements just like in a General Election.
Voting completed without any untoward incident. The counting to be made at District /Circle level and result to be announced on 28th September at Kidwai Bhawan, where offices of both MTNL and BSNL function. Representatives of Unions, BSNL Management and Chief Returning Officer present. When the counting in a circle is completed, the result will be intimated to CRO and the same will be exhibited in the big board prepared for the same so that all can watch and note down, if necessary. The first results, mostly from small circles, were all in favour of BSNLEU. O.P.Gupta, who was sitting there along with others became worried and went away and sat in another room. He might have been afraid of another defeat, after Bhopal AIC. BSNLEU was leading comfortably in votes till last, when results of only two –thee circles were to be received. But these were big circles like Maharashtra and Gujarat. In Maharashtra NFTE got 18,568 votes while BSNLEU received only 2854. This changed the balance. But results were not announced then and there, since there were cases in court, as also results from some circles were not very clear.
It was on 1st October 2002, during the celebration of the second foundation day anniversary of BSNL, where BSNL Management / officers, union representatives etc were there, that Chief Returning Officer with results arrived. NFTE was declared as the first union with 1,05,209 votes and BSNLEU second union with 89,486 votes. 35% and 30% of total votes.
Interesting fact was that, both CRO as well as CMD and other officers congratulated BSNLEU, though it got only second position . All of them had thought that NFTE will win with a very big difference. The advance of BSNLEU was taken note by all.
BSNLEU got majority of votes in 9 circles as also more or less votes in all the 35 circles. NFTE, though got first position all over, got nil votes in two circles and 3 and 11 votes in two other circles. NFTE which claimed about 1,40,000 members got only 1,05,00 votes, whereas BSNLEU which had only about 70,000 members got about 90,000 votes. All understood how where the tide was moving.
In DOT, two major Federations, NFTE and FNTO, were granted recognition and seats in JCM were shared by them. In the same way, the first two unions were to be granted recognition and seats allotted in the JCM. BSNL Management was also not against it. But NFTE strongly opposed grant of recognition to second union and threatened management that it will go to court if second union is granted recognition. Instead of taking correct decision, BSNL Management did not grant recognition to BSNLEU.
NFTE had to pay a big price for its wrong approach. From the second verification onwards BSNLEU got first position and recognition. NFTE’s recognition was lost. It never got the first position afterwards and had to content without recognized status and without seat in JCM. It was only after BSNLEU took up the case for grant of recognition to the second union that NFTE got recognition after about 10 years.