78569 BSNL officers and employees will be leaving their dear institution taking Voluntary retirement under VRS by 31st January 2020. Thus BSNL will lose a large number of employees who have steadfastly worked for long years and served the people. In addition, there will be some more employees who will be retiring on superannuation now.
Probably this will be the VRS, in which such a large number of employees have opted. It will seem that they have opted voluntarily, out of their own willingness and pleasure. But such is not the case. An examination of the various issues will give a different picture. It was one of most cunning plot, planned and implemented by the government and BSNL to send workers out of the company.
All these employees joined the Posts and Telegraphs Department / Department of Telecommunications (DOT) with great hopes for a better job, good remuneration and service conditions. A large number have joined as Reserve trained Pool (RTP), which was a scheme initiated at the time of Minister C.M.Stephen. The intention of the scheme was engaging trained personnel on hourly basis as reserve staff paying them a pittance of rupees. There was no intention to give them permanent job. They were to be kept as reserve trained pool. But once they joined, they understood that there is a strong Federation, NFPTE, and its affiliated Unions to take up their issues and organise struggle for them. Within a few years, through sustained struggles, all these comrades were regularised. It was a great achievement. Once they were regularised, they hoped that they will be able to continue their full term and retire on superannuation. The retirement age was increased from 58 to 60 by 1996. This means two more years of service.
Despite strong agitation and strike by the entire workers, Telecom Services were corporatised in to BSNL. The recognised federations, NFTE,FNTO and BTEF agreed for corporatisation after obtaining certain assurances. Unions like E.III(N), T.III etc. resisted till the last, well knowing that corporatisation is the first step towards privatisation.
But once BSNL was constituted, the above unions took up on themselves to ensure that the BSNL workers get justice and that BSNL is improved and strengthened. The conversion from CDA pay scales to IDA wef 01-10-2000 benefitted the entire employees, including officers. The role of BSNLEU in this was appreciated by all. BSNLEU became the sole recognised union in 2004 getting more than 50% of votes in the II Membership verification. BSNL strengthened and with an annual revenue of Rs.40,000 crore and a profit of an average of Rs. 6,000 crore became one of the biggest PSUs in the country. Govt. was worried that the private companies will be backtracked. It wanted to introduce VRS for 1 lakh workers, disinvestment of about 10% to 20% shares, unbundle the valuable copper cables spread all over India etc. to ensure that the company is weakened and is made ready for privatisation. The VRS draft Scheme was circulated.
BSNLEU, the recognised union, took initiative and brought all the unions under the Forum/Joint Forum and fought against these attacks. It clearly understood that VRS is neither beneficial to the company nor the workers. Massive propaganda was done. Many strikes and struggles were organised. 20th April 2010 strike was spectacular. The government was compelled to discuss and agree that there will be no VRS, no disinvestment, no unbundling of copper cables etc. etc. It was also agreed that wage revision w.e.f. 2007 will be finalised and that Pension Revision will be taken with the cabinet. Thus the govt could not even finalise the VRS and not a single official was sent out through VRS. It was a great victory against the govt’s anti-worker policy.
The struggle was not over. Pay Revision for executives was ordered as per recommendations of the II Pay Revision Committee. But BSNL took a tough stand on the pay revision of the non-executives. It took about three years to finalise the wage revision for employees and many agitations had to be organised. But at last the wage agreement was reached with 30% fitment, the highest at that time. Four Promotion Scheme (NEPP) was also got signed. Till that time non-executives were eligible for one or two promotions. Certain cadres had no promotion at all. The value of increments were increased. The telecom employees never in their life got such a better pay revision. This was done by BSNLEU through continuous struggles. Of course our allies were also there. The yearly wage bill increased from Rs. 10,000 crore to Rs. 14,000 crore because of the Pay/Wage revision.
Almost every year since 2004, there has been strikes, either done or withdrawn after settlement. Many of these struggles were for better service and allotment of spectrum etc.
Modi govt. is hell bound on favouring Reliance Jio, the new entrant owned by Mukesh Ambani, and wanted BSNL to be closed or privatised. But as long as the workers who fought continuously are there, it was not possible. A well planned attack was started on BSNL and its workers. 4G spectrum was denied to BSNL even after all others were given the same. BSNL was not allowed to purchase required equipment. All funds available with BSNL was taken over by DOT on one pretext or other. BSNL punged in to loss.
Next came the non-payment of wages to contract workers for about 10 months. The workers wages were delayed in many months. Govt and media always presented BSNL as a loss making company which can not be revived and has to be closed or privatised. The wage bill of the company was made a big issue. Propaganda was made that the retirement age will be reduced to 58 from the present 60. Insecurity was created in the minds of the employees. Due to the agitations of the AUAB, govt was compelled to state that BSNL will not be closed or privatised and that a Revival Plan will be implemented. It included VRS for 80,000 workers, allotment of 4G Spectrum, sovereign guarantee, locan etc. But the main plan was VRS.
In order to compel workers to opt for VRS all tricks were adopted by DOT and BSNL management including threats of transfer, work up to 12 hours etc. etc. And the result was that more than 78,000 employees opted for VRS. There are many gray areas in the VRS, which may create problems in future. But the workers felt so insecure that they opted for VRS.
There are two important issues in the present scenario. One is about the benefits and pension settlement etc of the employees opted for VRS. AIBDPA has already taken up the matter with DOT and the Member (Finance) agreed to our demand that all the retirees should get the pension by end of the month itself. In case, there is any delay, he agreed to pay provisional pension, so that all VRS retirees will get the pension without delay. AIBDPA has also demanded that all the settlements should be done without delay. Now that these workers will be pensioners from February, it becomes the duty of AIBDPA to settle their demands.
As far Revival of BSNL is considered the AUAB has already demanded for early allotment of 4G Spectrum, loan etc.
It is in this situation that the New Year 2020 is arriving. AIBDPA welcomes all the VRS retirees and requests them to become members of AIBDPA. All are pensioners and difference and division of the workers are not there. AIBDPA has got members from those retired from the BSNL Board as also other top officers. It has branches and circles all over the country. It is the biggest Pensioners Association in the Central govt. employees. It is affiliated to the National Co-ordination Committee of Pensioners (NCCPA) which is headed by Com. Shiv Gopal Mishra (AIRF) and Com. K.K.N.Kutty , both Members of the JCM National Council. AIBDPA is also affiliated to the Trade Union International (Pensioners and retirees) and its General Secretary Com. K.G.Jayaraj is one of the Executive committee Members.
AIBDPA has been formed 10 years back and had organised several agitational programmes for getting 78.2% IDA fixation for pensioners, Pension revision w.e.f. 2017,delinking of pension revision from pay revision etc. and also has presented the major demands of the DOT/BSNL pensioners before the VII CPC. Continuous efforts are being made for the grant of Pension revision.
The new pensioners on VRS can also get assured that their problems will be effectively taken by AIBDPA.
In fact, AIBDPA is in struggle path at present for the Pension Revision, Medical reimbursement, medical allowance etc. The programme includes meeting all M.P.s through out the country and forwarded our Memorandum of demands to the Prime Minister, Dharna on 12th February 2020 all over India and Parliament March on March 12.
AIBDPA is the organisation of the veterans of the struggles. We welcome all the new pensioners to its fold and assure that it will make out all efforts to settle the issues of the new pensioners.
We Wish a Happy and Fruitful New Year to all comrades, friends and wellwishers!