MY LIFE AND STRUGGLES -75 JOURNEYS, EXPERIENCES (1)

75. JOURNEYS, EXPERIENCES (1)

A good part of my life has been spent on journeys for attending conferences, meetings etc. At first it was limited to Kerala. As Circle Secretary of E.III Union, toured almost all parts of Kerala, wherever there were units of the union. In each tour could meet new comrades and friends from not only P and T, but also from other sections of employees, which enriched knowledge and widened  friends circle.

During this period, visited many places in nearby states, T.Nadu and Karnataka, on invitation by the branches / divisions there. Being Assistant General Secretary of the union enabled such tours.

AS General Secretary of E.III Union from 1991, as General Secretary of BSNL Employees Union from 2001 and as President from 2010 till 2015, toured almost all states and districts for participating in Conferences, for strike preparations, membership verification campaigns etc. About 15 to 20 days of tour every month. However, this is a task that has to be managed by leaders of  All India organisations. In addition, attended many All India Conferences of sister organisations, Seminars, Conventions of Central Trade Unions etc.  Attended CITU All India Conferences as Fraternal Delegate.    As a result, could meet many veteran leaders and discuss with them issues concerned with the movement.

Most of the journeys were by train. No problem, since, tickets are reserved in advance. But even if no reservation, journey has to be undertaken to attend meetings already fixed. On such occasions, one will have to travel hours together even without getting a seat to sit. During the period when E.III/E.III N union was denied its rightful recognition and both the administration and recognized Federation, NFTE, were witch hunting and attacking the union, its leaders and workers,  it was only the whole hearted support and exemplary loyalty of the workers that kept us alive and functioning.

I can never forget those many occasions when comrades with union red flag waiting in each station indefinitely for the train to arrive (trains were usually late), raising slogans of welcome and handing over home-prepared food within the few minutes the train will stop in the station. There will be only time to exchange a few words, but that was more than sufficient to pass important news, hand over journals and books and then get in to the train. Knowing well my habit of drinking tea very often, one of them will bring tea.  When train starts, again raising of slogans. The food they brought will be shared with other passengers, as you get it from comrades in more than one station.

Hectic tour during Member ship Verification. Though central office-bearers will be given charge of separate circles, all Circles will insist the General Secretary to visit at least few important centres in their circles.  Could not refuse, as the issue is membership Verification. Minimum three meetings in a day, sometimes four, in separate divisions. Except in a few circles like Kerala, the districts are large  and will take minimum four – five hours to reach the next one.  Food in the moving vehicle, sometimes biscuits and fruits, sometimes roti and subji, according to availability. Conditions of many roads were very  poor and two-three hours travel will make you extremely tired.

In Circles like Rajasthan, Bihar,  M.P. etc, it may take even five to ten hours covering a vast distance. In night journey, difficult to get even tea, as shops will be closed. Once travelling through M.P., the van driver stopped at the residence of his friend at about 02.00 am in the night and woke up them. They did not show any displeasure. I was surprised to find that they were extremely happy to serve us cup of tea and biscuits.

You can see ‘dhabas’ on the road side. Food and snacks will be available. If it is night, all of us will lie down in the charpayi (cots) put there immediately on getting down after ordering food. When the hot food is ready, will consume the same and continue travel. The car or tempo will be full and there will not be even space to stretch  your  legs. I did not have much difficulty as I used to be given the front seat near the driver.

Immediately on getting down, the comrades waiting there will take over my luggage, bundle of books, journal etc. till reaching the conference/meeting place. Once when went to Agra, one comrade took me in his car along with my suit case. He dropped me at the meeting place. Suit case left in the car. When returning, the person with the suit case was missing.  Comrades told that he has left to visit his family member in his village who was hospitalized after an accident. But just before the train started, got the suit case back.

Once in Andhra we could not get reservation. Comrades P.Asoka Babu, Asst. General Secretary, J.Sampath Rao, Circle Secretary and myself sat on newspaper spread near the closed door   and spent time till morning.

Once got in to the wrong train while returning from Khammam after Andhra Circle Conference. Had reserved ticket for GT Express to Delhi due at night 12.00 hours. Train was already in the station, by the time we reached there. Comrade Sampath Rao and others who were with me put my bags, suit cases etc in the train, I got in and the train moved. Within few minutes I realised that it was not my train and that GT Express was yet to come. Pulled the chain, but no response. I had to reach Delhi to attend a meeting with  Secretary DOT next day. The train stopped in the dark midnight in a very small station. I got down and with the help of the Guard of my train and the young Asst. Station Master, who alone was in the station, managed to get in the coming GT Express by the train getting slowed down and stopping for a second or so. Reached Delhi in time to attend the meeting.

While coming back from Manipur after attending a meeting, military personnel  blocked us on the border to Nagaland stating that one cannot cross to Nagaland in the night due to obvious dangers. We had to reach Arunachal Pradesh next day. On our continued insistence they allowed us to cross after noting our names and addresses and taking a declaration that we are responsible for any danger that may happen. Fortunately, there was no untoward incident.

Being rainy season, we were moving slowly on our journey to Arunachal Pradesh. All of a sudden, we could see about half a kilo meter in front, the landslide, huge rocks and mud falling and blocking the road. Had we been two minutes earlier, do not know what could have happened. We returned on the road we came.

A similar incident happened while on tour in Kerala.  Proceeding to T.Nadu through Nilambur. Road completely blocked by landslide. Getting information that another bus is on the other side, we somehow walked over to the other side. Got bus. Within ten minutes, an incoming Jeep with NFTE flag  stopped the bus. Along with them proceeded to the destination. Reached  in time for the meeting.

Had gone to Gujarat along with my wife for a tour to see places and also to attend some union meetings. Tickets booked for Rajadhani from Ahmedabad to Delhi. It was a long journey in the car and by the time we reached railway station, train was ready in the platform.  Since our tickets in waiting list was not confirmed, TTE told us that we cannot board the train, as rules do not provide for waitlisted passengers to get in to Rajadhani. No immediate train to Delhi. Went to the Airport. Tried for ticket to Delhi. Rs. One lakh for one ticket, that too only next day. On enquiry, found out that the rush is due to blockade of all roads in Haryana by some agitations. Booked tickets to Bengaluru for Rs.6,000 each and proceeded. Daughter and family very happy at this unexpected visit. We were also happy.

When rupturing from a meeting in Mizoram, many cycle rikshas on the side of road. The drivers had covered their head and face like terrorists. Enquired with comrades who were with us. We were told that they are well educated youths, that they are unemployed and had taken this job, but do not want their identity to be known. Victims of unemployment.

When returning from Maharashtra, I was given the reservation ticket purchased by comrades there. After getting in to the train, when checked, found out that it was a concession ticket for senior citizen. At that time concession was available for those senior citizens of 65 and above age. (Later it was reduced to 60). I was short of a few days for 65. I felt very embarrassed. The TTE came, checked ticket and identity card. He looked me and gave charming smile and passed on. In that smile, everything was there, that he had found out my lapse, but do not want to punish this white-haired senior citizen, whom he might have thought innocent in the matter, as truly it was.  (to be continued)

MY LIFE AND STRUGGLES – 74 INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCES, FOREIGN TOURS

74. INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCES, FOREIGN TOURS

WFTU Congress, Havana (Cuba)

I was fortunate to participate in the 15th Congress of the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) held at Havana, capital city of Socialist Cuba, from 1st to 4th of December 2005. Due to ideological differences, CITU and some other trade unions were not participating in a few earlier conferences. It was on the understanding that a change is expected, that 60 delegates from India, representing CITU, AITUC, TUCC, UTUC and Independent Federations participated.

First destination of the flight from Delhi was Jordan. One day stay at Amman. Along with comrades Elamaram Karim, K.K.N.Kutty, C.C.Pillai and other delegates visited Dead Sea, ancient city of Petro, Roman’s Amphi Theatre etc. Then to Havana via Barcelona. We were received and accommodated in a convenient hotel by Cuban hosts.

More than one thousand delegates from 71 countries participated in the Congress. 60 from India. Serious speeches and discussions. I spoke on the issues faced by Indian telecom sector. The ideological and tactical issues were discussed and settled. Comrade Mohammed Azooz (Syria) was elected as President and Comrade George Mavarikose (Greece) as Secretary General. Com.M.K.Pandhe (India) was elected as one of the Vice-Presidents.

It was announced that legendary revolutionary leader and Cuban President Comrade Fidel Castro will address the Congress. Though he had reached the place, due to certain security concerns, he did not address. Lost the opportunity to meet him in person and hear his inspiring speech.

The organizers arranged a visit to an important hospital and showed the treatment facilities. Cuba has one of the best health facilities in the world. It provides free medical studies to students of many countries.

Visited the union office of Telecom Union there. Union leaders came to the hotel where we were staying and took us to their office. Comrdes C.C.Pillai (NFPE) and V.V.Prasannakumari (Working Women) also were with me.  Union leaders explained their functioning, problems etc to  us. They know only their official language Spanish and we only English. Hence it was with the help of a translator that the discussion took place. Gave them some presents, which we had brought from India.

When we expressed our wish to visit the city, they sent the translator with us. She was a Professor of English in the university there. She took us to the beautiful beach, market etc. Visited the historic boat ‘Granma’ in which Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and other revolutionaries reached Cuban shores at the time of revolution.

While returning, the connection flight from Amman had already left, as our flight from Havana was a bit late. Hence went to Tunis in Africa and from there to Delhi. (Articles on Cuban journey in detail have been published in BSNL Crusader, Journal of BSNLEU Kerala Circle and Bank Workers Forum, the Journal of BEFI).  

TUI (Public Services & Allied Workers) Congress, Johannesburg

Participated in the Tenth Congress of the Trade Union International (Public Services & Allied Workers) held at Johannesburg, South Africa from 20th to 22nd March 2006. Comrades S.K.Vyas, K.K.N.Kutty and C.C.Pillai were there. There were representatives from Bank Unions also. TUI (PS&AW) represents Government and Public service employees all over the world and is affiliated to WFTU. I reported about the telecom sector in India and the sustained struggles organised.

Visited Johannesburg city, Ashram started by Gandhiji and his statue and connected institutions. The inspiring memories of Gandhiji’s fight for justice to Indian workers remembered.

TUI (Pensioners & Retirees) Congress at Barcelona, Spain

The formation Congress of Trade Union International (Pensioners & Retirees), affiliated to WFTU was held at Barcelona, Spain in 2014. Attended as a delegate of AIBDPA. The issues of pensioners and retirees were discussed in detail and it was decided to form TUI(P&R). I spoke about the issues of pensioners in India and submitted a detailed report. I was elected as a Member of the Technical Committee.

As General Secretary of BSNL Employees Union, visited Nepal four times on the invitation of Telecom Employees Association of Nepal (TEAN) to their annual conferences. As mentioned earlier, BSNLEU and TEAN have close bonds and attended each other’s conferences. Still continues the comradely relations.

TEAN represents all section of employees in the Nepal Communications, except the Directors, unlike in India where executives and non-executives have different unions.  One representative of the recognized union will be in Director Board.  Workers’ Participation in Management. Functioning of TEAN is very systematic and progressive. There is one more union in the Nepal Communications.

When I visited Nepal to attend  meetings of TUI (P and R), office-bearers of TEAN invited me to their office and honoured me. Once visited Nepal along with Pankjam and toured Kathmandu, heritage temples, old city and other places. All arrangements were made by TEAN Comrades.

Went to London four times with wife Pankajam to visit our son Shaji and family and stayed one month each time. Visited many historic places in and around London during these stays.

In 2010 August visited the tomb of Karl Marx, the greatest philosopher, revolutionary and author of ‘Communist Manifesto’, ‘Das Capital’ etc,  at the High Gate Cemetery in London. The cemetery covers a very big area. Karl Marx passed away on 14th March 1883 while he was staying in London and was buried in High Gate cemetery. The tomb was in very interior part of the cemetery. It was later shifted to a better place with his statue so that the visitors can easily reach there. His daughter is also buried nearby.

There were some youths from the Caribbean Islands and from Russia when we visited. We got acquainted and they took our photo  with the tomb in the background.   It was a great moment of life to have been able to visit the place. It is in this cemetery that South African freedom fighter Mohammed Dadoo, English Novelist Elliot George and Claudia Vera Jones  are buried. Next day visited Marx Memorial Library, which is having many books and memorials connected with Marx.

Next time visited Scotland which is endowed with natural beauty. Visited tomb of Famous Poet William Wordsworth. Visited Paris and other places in France as also the Walt Disney Park.

Visiting new places is always a matter of joy. (To be continued).

MY LIFE AND STRUGGLES – 73 ALL INDIA BSNL DOT PENSIONERS ASSOCIATION (AIBDPA)

73. ALL INDIA BSNL DOT PENSIONERS ASSOCIATION (AIBDPA)

Number of pensioners and retirees in Central government and BSNL has been increasing continuously, while the number of employees is  reduced drastically due to non-recruitment even in justified and sanctioned posts.

Pensioners retired from BSNL faced a lot of complicated issues. Though it was assured at the time of absorption from DOT to BSNL, that  government will pay the pension, problem was created clubbing it with the contributions to be made by BSNL to DOT on taxes, licence fees etc. Government was reluctant to grant Pension Revision based on Pay revision in BSNL. Though there were organizations for central government pensioners, it was difficult for them to deal with the complicated problems of BSNL pensioners. As such, it became necessary to form an association for BSNL pensioners. It will also help in bringing more retirees to the pensioners’ organization. After discussing at various levels, BSNLEU took the initiative to form such an organization for BSNL pensioners. Decided to hold a National Convention of pensioners.

The Pensioners Convention was held on 21st October 2009 at Garhwal Bhawan New Delhi, presided by senior Comrades A.K.Bhattacharjee, P.V.Chandrasekharan and J.N.Mishra. As the organizer, I heartily welcomed all and presented the objective of holding the convention and the problems of BSNL and DOT pensioners. Com.M.K.Pandhe, President CITU, inaugurated the convention and appreciated the organisers for taking the correct decision. Com.S.K.Vyas, veteran leader and Secretary General of National co-ordination Committee of Pensioners Association, greeted and gave valuable guidance. After detailed discussion by the delegates, the new organization, All India BSNL DOT Pensioners Association (AIBDPA),  was formed. Pensioners’ problems were discussed in detail and resolutions adopted.

When the time came for election of office-bearers, many comrades, including senior leaders, compelled me to accept the post of General Secretary. With humility I told them that since I am the General Secretary of BSNLEU, it will not be proper for me to become the General Secretary of the pensioners’ organization also. Com. A.K.Bhattacharjee was elected as President and Com.K.G.Jayaraj as General Secretary. I was elected as Advisor and Com.P.V.Chandrasekharan as Patron.

Within no time AIBDPA won the confidence of the pensioners and membership increased. Not only retired non-executives, but retired executives and even senior officers became members. It started taking up the problems of both BSNL as well DOT pensioners. AIBDPA was able to intervene effectively and got the issues of 78% IDA Relief, withdrawal of 60%-40% condition for payment of government pension etc. settled.

After the formation conference, All India Conferences were held at Kannur, Tirupati and Kolkata with massive participation of pensioners. I was re-elected as Advisor along with Comrades P.V.Chandrasekharan as Patron, A.K.Bhattacharjee as President and K.G.Jayaraj as General Secretary.

Within a short time Circle and Divisional branches could be formed in almost all the circles. Many comrades who had earlier been leaders in the service unions took responsibility in the pensioners association.

Government is taking a step-motherly attitude to the problems of the pensioners, probably because they cannot go on strike and interrupt the services.  But the authorities forget that they are senior citizens and can very much influence the people. They also forget that it is with the hard work of these persons that the services were effectively maintained for years.

One of the major beneficial changes after the Second World War (1939 – 45) was the recognition accorded to the pensioners. Most of the pensioners in the developed countries were war veterans and who sacrificed everything for the war. New rules for pension, family pension, pension revision etc. were introduced. The Supreme Court judgment on 17-12-1982 in D.S.Nakara & others Vs. Union of India case stating that ‘Pension is neither a bounty nor a matter of grace depending upon the sweet will of the employer’ and that ‘Pension is not an ex-gratia payment, but it is a payment for past service rendered’ established that pension is a fundamental right and not a gratis given to the pensioners.

But reactionary changes started after introduction of neo-liberal policies. The central government started to change pension rules. Defined Statutory Pension Scheme was changed to New Pension Scheme (NPS), which is fully against the interests of  pensioners. Those appointed in BSNL since its formation also did not get statutory defined pension. The only beneficial recommendation for the pensioners by the VII Central Pay Commission viz. Option 1, meaning One rank One Pension, has been denied to the pensioners.

BSNL pensioners got Pension Revision from 01-01-2007 only after continuous struggles and agitations by employees as well as pensioners. Pension revision due from 01-01-2017 is denied on the flimsy plea that pay revision is not implemented in BSNL. Struggle by AIBDPA continues for Pay revision, denial of medical allowance, medical reimbursement etc.

Many problems of the thousands of pensioners who were retrenched through VRS are still to be settled. AIBDA is fully committed to settle these problems and is continuing its efforts for the same.

AIBDPA is not only limiting its activities to the pensioners, but is actively participating in the problems of senior citizens and other suffering people.

AIBDPA is affiliated to the Trade Union International (TUI) affiliated to WFTU. Com.K.G.Jayaraj, General Secretary AIBDPA is its Executive Committee Member. AIBDPA is affiliated to the NCCPA also.  (to be continued)

MY LIFE AND STRUGGLES – 72 BSNL CASUAL CONTRACT WORKERS FEDERATION

72. BSNL CASUAL CONTRACT WORKERS FEDERATION

Casual labours were utilized by P and T Department from very earlier  days for laying cables and  telephone lines as also for fault-repair and maintenance. They were selected through employment exchanges. Telephone Line Inspectors and Sub-Inspectors engaged  them directly also, mainly from members  of their families, friends etc. Through departmental tests, many of them have been selected as Linemen as also to other class III and higher cadres through examinations. Sometimes it can be seen that many members of the same family are working in the department. I know of 5 Line Inspectors and their family members in the department in various cadres, who were first engaged as casual labours and promoted to higher cadres after passing examinations.

In 1988, Department of Telecom issued orders banning regularisation of casual labour as also recruitment. Though the ban was removed due to strong protest and agitation, ban orders were again issued in 1998.  One assurance which was given at the time of formation of BSNL in 2000 was that all  existing casual labour who have continuously worked 240 days or more  in a year without break  will be regularized. BSNL corporate office was to regularize them after getting relevant  details from  circles.

One of my important task as General Secretary after formation of BSNL, was to go to the concerned section in corporate office and ensure that the names recommended for confirmation from the circles are got regularised. Contacted circle secretaries regularly asking them to ensure that lists of all eligible casual labour are forwarded to C.O. without delay. About 5000 such casual labour were got regularized in this way.

Corporate office suddenly stopped regularization of casual labour in 2006, after an unfortunate judgment in the Supreme Court. It was an appeal case filed in the Supreme Court – State of Karnataka Vs Umadevi. There is equal right for all citizens for Government jobs and the fact that somebody has temporarily worked for some period, does not make him/ her eligible for permanent employment was the gist of the judgment. Cases of casual labour in Department of Telecom was entirely different. They were mostly recruited through employment exchange as per existing orders and there were clear rules for their regularization. Had continued till the SC judgment. It was also as per agreement between  recognized federations and  DOT. But BSNL was not prepared to accept our demand for regularization. The judgment came as an escape route for them to deny regularization.

BSNL Employees Union demanded that the remaining casual labour also should be regularized as has been done earlier. It was only due to unjustified delay by lower offices that the list could not reach C.O. Had they been received, those casual labour would have been regularized. On demand from BSNLEU, management referred the matter to Attorney General, who without going to the background of the case, gave opinion that they cannot be regulrised.

In addition to casual labours, thousands of contract workers had  been engaged by  DOT since 1990s, after  ban on engagement of casual labour. Wages of these contract workers were being paid through contractors, unlike in the case of casual labour, whose wages were directly paid by DOT. In most of the circles, facilities like EPF, ESI etc were not implemented for these contract workers as also wages fixed by the Chief Labour Commissioner. They were being brutally exploited. These contract workers numbering about one lakh were treated as wage slaves by  BSNL management and contractors.

In 2006, while I was on organizational tour of Puri, the   temple town of Odisha, saw a dharna being held before one sub-divisional office of telecom by about 20-15 contract labours. When asked about the demands, a woman worker, who was their leader, told they were neither paid  wages in full nor welfare measures like ESI, EPF etc. were implemented. They were getting about Rs.500 only per month, the rest being appropriated by the officers and the contractor.  Realised that some thing has got to be done to change this sad state of affairs and for getting justice to these hard working labours.

Kolkata All India Convention – 2008

Organizing  casual and contract workers was the main task at hand so that they can fight for their rights and demands. BSNLEU took up this responsibility. Contacted all circle secretaries and other prominent leaders and decided to hold an All India Convention of  Casual and Contract workers. The same was held at Kolkata on 14-15 March 2008, participated by about 500 workers.

I was entrusted with the task of inaugurating the Convention. Problems of  casual-contract workers and decision of the Guwahati AIC of BSNLEU in this connection was explained by me. The open session was inaugurated by Com.M.K.Pandhe, CITU President, who elaborately explained the rights  of the contract workers gained through various struggles. More than 1500 workers participated in the procession organized, which marched through the city.

As per unanimous decision of the Convention, the new union, BSNL Casual and Contract Workers federation (BSNLCCWF) was formed with V.A.N.Namboodiri as President and Com. Tapas Ghosh, a casual worker, as Secretary General. The Convention adopted a Declaration on the demand of the workers. The new union was  got registered.

It was not easy to form circle and divisional units. Officers and contractors were completely against formation of union created many hurdles. They very well understood that the new union will fight against exploitation and for the workers’ rights. When touring various circles as General Secretary of BSNLEU, took that opportunity to hold  meetings of casual contract workers and formed its units. In this way, the units of BSNLCCWF were formed in almost all the circles without much delay.

Wherever local/circle units of BSNLEU gave support and took initiative, BSNLCCWF units were formed. Kerala, T.Nadu, W.Bengal, Odisha, Karnataka and certain other circles became strong units of BSNLCCWF.

Through continuous struggles organized at All India and Circle levels, many improvements could be made with regard to payment of wages, implementation of ESI, EPF and other welfare measures.

Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour

Issues of BSNL casual contract workers were brought for discussion in the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour, through initiative of Com.P.R.Natarajan, Member of Parliament (CPIM) from Coimbatore. It was a turn around. In its meeting held at Parliament Annexe on 14th January 2011 under the Chairmanship of Shri Hemanad Biswal, M.P., there were about 30 M.P.s, Chief Labour Commissioner, Commissioners of EPF and ESI as also press reporters. I was called first to give evidence to the Committee. Gave the well prepared memorandum on the sad state of affairs with regard to wages, welfare measures like EPF, ESI etc as also the numbers of workers (even names of workers in some circles) circle wise and what they were being paid. Though I was allotted only 15 minutes, I could give evidence almost one hour as the other two unions which had been called to give evidence told the committee that their allotted time may be given to me. It was an exhaustive presentation. Questions asked by some M.P.s were replied. Tea and snacks were supplied to us in the adjoining room after our evidence was over.

We could see Secretary DOT, CMD BSNL and other top officers going to the Committee room when we were coming out. But within a few minutes, they were seen coming out. They marched out of the building with grim faces even foregoing tea and snacks offered to them. 

When enquired to press reporters it was revealed that when the Standing Committee asked about payment of wages etc. to the officers, they replied that it is completely the responsibility of the contractors. Irritated by this irresponsible answer, the Chairman is stated to have asked the officers to go through the relevant labour rules and come next time and dismissed them. It was a rude shock to DOT and BSNL oficers, who hitherto were taking the position that they have no direct responsibility, though they are the Principal Employer.

In continuation, meetings of the Parliamentary Standing Committees were held in Delhi, Mumbai, Gangtok (Sikkim) etc. and took evidence. I attended all these meetings with General Secretary and one or two other representatives and gave evidence. In between, the Committee was reconstituted with Com. Sudhakar Reddy, M.P. (CPI) as Chairman. In the meeting at Gangtok , committee members Comrades K.Chandran Pillai and C.S.Sujatha, M.P.s from Kerala, helped much by asking relevant questions to me and getting suitable replies.

After the first meeting of the Parliamentary Standing Committee, continuous discussions were held with the BSNL Management on the issues of the casual and contract workers. Details of each circle, even with names of the contract workers engaged, with the long period they had continuously worked, along with what wage they were receiving etc. were submitted to the management for necessary action. Many instructions were issued by the Corporate office ordering strict implementation of rules on payment of minimum wage, EPF, ESI etc. There was good improvement. Still exploitation continued in certain circles.

BSNLCCWF complained to the EPF Commissioner about non-implementation of EPF in many circles. BSNL officers were called and told by the Commissioner that strict action would be taken if the rules are not implemented. This also helped in settling a lot of cases.

Three  all India strikes were organized by BSNLCCWF on the major demands of the workers, which were fully participated. Chief Labour Commissioner held conciliation meetings several times and directed management to implement all labour rules in connection with the contract workers.  Since the officers (mainly GMs of Corporate Office) were not able to answer several questions of the CLC, he wanted  higher officers to attend and once Director (HR) came and gave evidence before the CLC.  Due to continued efforts, gratuity to contract workers is also under consideration.

After formation Conference in Kolkata, two AICs were held – at Lucknow in 2011 and at Kanya Kumari. Com. Animesh Mitra is the present Secretary General and I continues as President since its formation.

Now, the contract workers have not been paid  their wages for many months, on the plea of loss to BSNL. More than 50,000 workers have been retrenched and urgent works are outsourced. Despite sustained struggles, the situation has not improved.

This attitude on the part of  management is a reflection of the anti-worker attitude of Modi government. Sustained struggles will have to be organized. Whatever achievement has been made through continuous struggles for years are being taken away, especially during this covid-19 period, when, in fact,  the workers have to be given help and support. (to be continued)   

❤72. BSNL CASUAL CONTRACT WORKERS FEDERATION

Casual labours were utilized by P and T Department from very earlier  days for laying cables and  telephone lines as also for fault-repair and maintenance. They were selected through employment exchanges. Telephone Line Inspectors and Sub-Inspectors engaged  them directly also, mainly from members  of their families, friends etc. Through departmental tests, many of them have been selected as Linemen as also to other class III and higher cadres through examinations. Sometimes it can be seen that many members of the same family are working in the department. I know of 5 Line Inspectors and their family members in the department in various cadres, who were first engaged as casual labours and promoted to higher cadres after passing examinations.

In 1988, Department of Telecom issued orders banning regularisation of casual labour as also recruitment. Though the ban was removed due to strong protest and agitation, ban orders were again issued in 1998.  One assurance which was given at the time of formation of BSNL in 2000 was that all  existing casual labour who have continuously worked 240 days or more  in a year without break  will be regularized. BSNL corporate office was to regularize them after getting relevant  details from  circles.

One of my important task as General Secretary after formation of BSNL, was to go to the concerned section in corporate office and ensure that the names recommended for confirmation from the circles are got regularised. Contacted circle secretaries regularly asking them to ensure that lists of all eligible casual labour are forwarded to C.O. without delay. About 5000 such casual labour were got regularized in this way.

Corporate office suddenly stopped regularization of casual labour in 2006, after an unfortunate judgment in the Supreme Court. It was an appeal case filed in the Supreme Court – State of Karnataka Vs Umadevi. There is equal right for all citizens for Government jobs and the fact that somebody has temporarily worked for some period, does not make him/ her eligible for permanent employment was the gist of the judgment. Cases of casual labour in Department of Telecom was entirely different. They were mostly recruited through employment exchange as per existing orders and there were clear rules for their regularization. Had continued till the SC judgment. It was also as per agreement between  recognized federations and  DOT. But BSNL was not prepared to accept our demand for regularization. The judgment came as an escape route for them to deny regularization.

BSNL Employees Union demanded that the remaining casual labour also should be regularized as has been done earlier. It was only due to unjustified delay by lower offices that the list could not reach C.O. Had they been received, those casual labour would have been regularized. On demand from BSNLEU, management referred the matter to Attorney General, who without going to the background of the case, gave opinion that they cannot be regulrised.

In addition to casual labours, thousands of contract workers had  been engaged by  DOT since 1990s, after  ban on engagement of casual labour. Wages of these contract workers were being paid through contractors, unlike in the case of casual labour, whose wages were directly paid by DOT. In most of the circles, facilities like EPF, ESI etc were not implemented for these contract workers as also wages fixed by the Chief Labour Commissioner. They were being brutally exploited. These contract workers numbering about one lakh were treated as wage slaves by  BSNL management and contractors.

In 2006, while I was on organizational tour of Puri, the   temple town of Odisha, saw a dharna being held before one sub-divisional office of telecom by about 20-15 contract labours. When asked about the demands, a woman worker, who was their leader, told they were neither paid  wages in full nor welfare measures like ESI, EPF etc. were implemented. They were getting about Rs.500 only per month, the rest being appropriated by the officers and the contractor.  Realised that some thing has got to be done to change this sad state of affairs and for getting justice to these hard working labours.

Kolkata All India Convention – 2008

Organizing  casual and contract workers was the main task at hand so that they can fight for their rights and demands. BSNLEU took up this responsibility. Contacted all circle secretaries and other prominent leaders and decided to hold an All India Convention of  Casual and Contract workers. The same was held at Kolkata on 14-15 March 2008, participated by about 500 workers.

I was entrusted with the task of inaugurating the Convention. Problems of  casual-contract workers and decision of the Guwahati AIC of BSNLEU in this connection was explained by me. The open session was inaugurated by Com.M.K.Pandhe, CITU President, who elaborately explained the rights  of the contract workers gained through various struggles. More than 1500 workers participated in the procession organized, which marched through the city.

As per unanimous decision of the Convention, the new union, BSNL Casual and Contract Workers federation (BSNLCCWF) was formed with V.A.N.Namboodiri as President and Com. Tapas Ghosh, a casual worker, as Secretary General. The Convention adopted a Declaration on the demand of the workers. The new union was  got registered.

It was not easy to form circle and divisional units. Officers and contractors were completely against formation of union created many hurdles. They very well understood that the new union will fight against exploitation and for the workers’ rights. When touring various circles as General Secretary of BSNLEU, took that opportunity to hold  meetings of casual contract workers and formed its units. In this way, the units of BSNLCCWF were formed in almost all the circles without much delay.

Wherever local/circle units of BSNLEU gave support and took initiative, BSNLCCWF units were formed. Kerala, T.Nadu, W.Bengal, Odisha, Karnataka and certain other circles became strong units of BSNLCCWF.

Through continuous struggles organized at All India and Circle levels, many improvements could be made with regard to payment of wages, implementation of ESI, EPF and other welfare measures.

Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour

Issues of BSNL casual contract workers were brought for discussion in the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour, through initiative of Com.P.R.Natarajan, Member of Parliament (CPIM) from Coimbatore. It was a turn around. In its meeting held at Parliament Annexe on 14th January 2011 under the Chairmanship of Shri Hemanad Biswal, M.P., there were about 30 M.P.s, Chief Labour Commissioner, Commissioners of EPF and ESI as also press reporters. I was called first to give evidence to the Committee. Gave the well prepared memorandum on the sad state of affairs with regard to wages, welfare measures like EPF, ESI etc as also the numbers of workers (even names of workers in some circles) circle wise and what they were being paid. Though I was allotted only 15 minutes, I could give evidence almost one hour as the other two unions which had been called to give evidence told the committee that their allotted time may be given to me. It was an exhaustive presentation. Questions asked by some M.P.s were replied. Tea and snacks were supplied to us in the adjoining room after our evidence was over.

We could see Secretary DOT, CMD BSNL and other top officers going to the Committee room when we were coming out. But within a few minutes, they were seen coming out. They marched out of the building with grim faces even foregoing tea and snacks offered to them. 

When enquired to press reporters it was revealed that when the Standing Committee asked about payment of wages etc. to the officers, they replied that it is completely the responsibility of the contractors. Irritated by this irresponsible answer, the Chairman is stated to have asked the officers to go through the relevant labour rules and come next time and dismissed them. It was a rude shock to DOT and BSNL oficers, who hitherto were taking the position that they have no direct responsibility, though they are the Principal Employer.

In continuation, meetings of the Parliamentary Standing Committees were held in Delhi, Mumbai, Gangtok (Sikkim) etc. and took evidence. I attended all these meetings with General Secretary and one or two other representatives and gave evidence. In between, the Committee was reconstituted with Com. Sudhakar Reddy, M.P. (CPI) as Chairman. In the meeting at Gangtok , committee members Comrades K.Chandran Pillai and C.S.Sujatha, M.P.s from Kerala, helped much by asking relevant questions to me and getting suitable replies.

After the first meeting of the Parliamentary Standing Committee, continuous discussions were held with the BSNL Management on the issues of the casual and contract workers. Details of each circle, even with names of the contract workers engaged, with the long period they had continuously worked, along with what wage they were receiving etc. were submitted to the management for necessary action. Many instructions were issued by the Corporate office ordering strict implementation of rules on payment of minimum wage, EPF, ESI etc. There was good improvement. Still exploitation continued in certain circles.

BSNLCCWF complained to the EPF Commissioner about non-implementation of EPF in many circles. BSNL officers were called and told by the Commissioner that strict action would be taken if the rules are not implemented. This also helped in settling a lot of cases.

Three  all India strikes were organized by BSNLCCWF on the major demands of the workers, which were fully participated. Chief Labour Commissioner held conciliation meetings several times and directed management to implement all labour rules in connection with the contract workers.  Since the officers (mainly GMs of Corporate Office) were not able to answer several questions of the CLC, he wanted  higher officers to attend and once Director (HR) came and gave evidence before the CLC.  Due to continued efforts, gratuity to contract workers is also under consideration.

After formation Conference in Kolkata, two AICs were held – at Lucknow in 2011 and at Kanya Kumari. Com. Animesh Mitra is the present Secretary General and I continues as President since its formation.

Now, the contract workers have not been paid  their wages for many months, on the plea of loss to BSNL. More than 50,000 workers have been retrenched and urgent works are outsourced. Despite sustained struggles, the situation has not improved.

This attitude on the part of  management is a reflection of the anti-worker attitude of Modi government. Sustained struggles will have to be organized. Whatever achievement has been made through continuous struggles for years are being taken away, especially during this covid-19 period, when, in fact,  the workers have to be given help and support. (to be continued)   

  1. BSNL CASUAL CONTRACT WORKERS FEDERATION

Casual labours were utilized by P and T Department from very earlier  days for laying cables and  telephone lines as also for fault-repair and maintenance. They were selected through employment exchanges. Telephone Line Inspectors and Sub-Inspectors engaged  them directly also, mainly from members  of their families, friends etc. Through departmental tests, many of them have been selected as Linemen as also to other class III and higher cadres through examinations. Sometimes it can be seen that many members of the same family are working in the department. I know of 5 Line Inspectors and their family members in the department in various cadres, who were first engaged as casual labours and promoted to higher cadres after passing examinations.

In 1988, Department of Telecom issued orders banning regularisation of casual labour as also recruitment. Though the ban was removed due to strong protest and agitation, ban orders were again issued in 1998.  One assurance which was given at the time of formation of BSNL in 2000 was that all  existing casual labour who have continuously worked 240 days or more  in a year without break  will be regularized. BSNL corporate office was to regularize them after getting relevant  details from  circles.

One of my important task as General Secretary after formation of BSNL, was to go to the concerned section in corporate office and ensure that the names recommended for confirmation from the circles are got regularised. Contacted circle secretaries regularly asking them to ensure that lists of all eligible casual labour are forwarded to C.O. without delay. About 5000 such casual labour were got regularized in this way.

Corporate office suddenly stopped regularization of casual labour in 2006, after an unfortunate judgment in the Supreme Court. It was an appeal case filed in the Supreme Court – State of Karnataka Vs Umadevi. There is equal right for all citizens for Government jobs and the fact that somebody has temporarily worked for some period, does not make him/ her eligible for permanent employment was the gist of the judgment. Cases of casual labour in Department of Telecom was entirely different. They were mostly recruited through employment exchange as per existing orders and there were clear rules for their regularization. Had continued till the SC judgment. It was also as per agreement between  recognized federations and  DOT. But BSNL was not prepared to accept our demand for regularization. The judgment came as an escape route for them to deny regularization.

BSNL Employees Union demanded that the remaining casual labour also should be regularized as has been done earlier. It was only due to unjustified delay by lower offices that the list could not reach C.O. Had they been received, those casual labour would have been regularized. On demand from BSNLEU, management referred the matter to Attorney General, who without going to the background of the case, gave opinion that they cannot be regulrised.

In addition to casual labours, thousands of contract workers had  been engaged by  DOT since 1990s, after  ban on engagement of casual labour. Wages of these contract workers were being paid through contractors, unlike in the case of casual labour, whose wages were directly paid by DOT. In most of the circles, facilities like EPF, ESI etc were not implemented for these contract workers as also wages fixed by the Chief Labour Commissioner. They were being brutally exploited. These contract workers numbering about one lakh were treated as wage slaves by  BSNL management and contractors.

In 2006, while I was on organizational tour of Puri, the   temple town of Odisha, saw a dharna being held before one sub-divisional office of telecom by about 20-15 contract labours. When asked about the demands, a woman worker, who was their leader, told they were neither paid  wages in full nor welfare measures like ESI, EPF etc. were implemented. They were getting about Rs.500 only per month, the rest being appropriated by the officers and the contractor.  Realised that some thing has got to be done to change this sad state of affairs and for getting justice to these hard working labours.

Kolkata All India Convention – 2008

Organizing  casual and contract workers was the main task at hand so that they can fight for their rights and demands. BSNLEU took up this responsibility. Contacted all circle secretaries and other prominent leaders and decided to hold an All India Convention of  Casual and Contract workers. The same was held at Kolkata on 14-15 March 2008, participated by about 500 workers.

I was entrusted with the task of inaugurating the Convention. Problems of  casual-contract workers and decision of the Guwahati AIC of BSNLEU in this connection was explained by me. The open session was inaugurated by Com.M.K.Pandhe, CITU President, who elaborately explained the rights  of the contract workers gained through various struggles. More than 1500 workers participated in the procession organized, which marched through the city.

As per unanimous decision of the Convention, the new union, BSNL Casual and Contract Workers federation (BSNLCCWF) was formed with V.A.N.Namboodiri as President and Com. Tapas Ghosh, a casual worker, as Secretary General. The Convention adopted a Declaration on the demand of the workers. The new union was  got registered.

It was not easy to form circle and divisional units. Officers and contractors were completely against formation of union created many hurdles. They very well understood that the new union will fight against exploitation and for the workers’ rights. When touring various circles as General Secretary of BSNLEU, took that opportunity to hold  meetings of casual contract workers and formed its units. In this way, the units of BSNLCCWF were formed in almost all the circles without much delay.

Wherever local/circle units of BSNLEU gave support and took initiative, BSNLCCWF units were formed. Kerala, T.Nadu, W.Bengal, Odisha, Karnataka and certain other circles became strong units of BSNLCCWF.

Through continuous struggles organized at All India and Circle levels, many improvements could be made with regard to payment of wages, implementation of ESI, EPF and other welfare measures.

Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour

Issues of BSNL casual contract workers were brought for discussion in the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour, through initiative of Com.P.R.Natarajan, Member of Parliament (CPIM) from Coimbatore. It was a turn around. In its meeting held at Parliament Annexe on 14th January 2011 under the Chairmanship of Shri Hemanad Biswal, M.P., there were about 30 M.P.s, Chief Labour Commissioner, Commissioners of EPF and ESI as also press reporters. I was called first to give evidence to the Committee. Gave the well prepared memorandum on the sad state of affairs with regard to wages, welfare measures like EPF, ESI etc as also the numbers of workers (even names of workers in some circles) circle wise and what they were being paid. Though I was allotted only 15 minutes, I could give evidence almost one hour as the other two unions which had been called to give evidence told the committee that their allotted time may be given to me. It was an exhaustive presentation. Questions asked by some M.P.s were replied. Tea and snacks were supplied to us in the adjoining room after our evidence was over.

We could see Secretary DOT, CMD BSNL and other top officers going to the Committee room when we were coming out. But within a few minutes, they were seen coming out. They marched out of the building with grim faces even foregoing tea and snacks offered to them. 

When enquired to press reporters it was revealed that when the Standing Committee asked about payment of wages etc. to the officers, they replied that it is completely the responsibility of the contractors. Irritated by this irresponsible answer, the Chairman is stated to have asked the officers to go through the relevant labour rules and come next time and dismissed them. It was a rude shock to DOT and BSNL oficers, who hitherto were taking the position that they have no direct responsibility, though they are the Principal Employer.

In continuation, meetings of the Parliamentary Standing Committees were held in Delhi, Mumbai, Gangtok (Sikkim) etc. and took evidence. I attended all these meetings with General Secretary and one or two other representatives and gave evidence. In between, the Committee was reconstituted with Com. Sudhakar Reddy, M.P. (CPI) as Chairman. In the meeting at Gangtok , committee members Comrades K.Chandran Pillai and C.S.Sujatha, M.P.s from Kerala, helped much by asking relevant questions to me and getting suitable replies.

After the first meeting of the Parliamentary Standing Committee, continuous discussions were held with the BSNL Management on the issues of the casual and contract workers. Details of each circle, even with names of the contract workers engaged, with the long period they had continuously worked, along with what wage they were receiving etc. were submitted to the management for necessary action. Many instructions were issued by the Corporate office ordering strict implementation of rules on payment of minimum wage, EPF, ESI etc. There was good improvement. Still exploitation continued in certain circles.

BSNLCCWF complained to the EPF Commissioner about non-implementation of EPF in many circles. BSNL officers were called and told by the Commissioner that strict action would be taken if the rules are not implemented. This also helped in settling a lot of cases.

Three  all India strikes were organized by BSNLCCWF on the major demands of the workers, which were fully participated. Chief Labour Commissioner held conciliation meetings several times and directed management to implement all labour rules in connection with the contract workers.  Since the officers (mainly GMs of Corporate Office) were not able to answer several questions of the CLC, he wanted  higher officers to attend and once Director (HR) came and gave evidence before the CLC.  Due to continued efforts, gratuity to contract workers is also under consideration.

After formation Conference in Kolkata, two AICs were held – at Lucknow in 2011 and at Kanya Kumari. Com. Animesh Mitra is the present Secretary General and I continues as President since its formation.

Now, the contract workers have not been paid  their wages for many months, on the plea of loss to BSNL. More than 50,000 workers have been retrenched and urgent works are outsourced. Despite sustained struggles, the situation has not improved.

This attitude on the part of  management is a reflection of the anti-worker attitude of Modi government. Sustained struggles will have to be organized. Whatever achievement has been made through continuous struggles for years are being taken away, especially during this covid-19 period, when, in fact,  the workers have to be given help and support. (to be continued)   

 

 

 

MY LIE AND STRUGGLES – 71 BSNL – STRUGGLES FOR EXISTENCE (4)

  1. BSNL – STRUGGLES FOR EXISTENCE (4)

A detailed discussion took place between CMD BSNL Shri Anupam Shrivasatav and  Forum representatives. All Board members were present. Since most of the issues were to be decided by DOT, no settlement could be reached. The only main assurance was that sufficient mobile lines will be purchased. It was also agreed that appointments will be made in essential posts. Other issues were to be discussed with DOT.

2 Days Strike on 21-22 April 2015

Forum reviewed the discussion with CMD and came to the conclusion that the strike has become unavoidable as the major demands are not settled.

The two days strike on 21-22 April 2015 paralyzed the entire BSNL services. As per call of  BSNLCCWF, casual-contract workers also joined the strike. Pensioners under the leadership of AIBDPA organized massive demonstrations in support and solidarity.  CITU, AITUC, BMS, INTUC, AIRF, AIIEA, NFPE, Confederation, BEFI, AISGEF and other organisations expressed solidarity and greeted the striking workers.

Members of Parliament, P.Karunakaran, Shankar Prasad Dutt, Jithendra Choudhury, P.K.Biju, Dr. A.Sampath, P.K.Sreemathi and others raised the strike issues in  Parliament in zero hour on 22nd April and demanded the government to settle the issues.

Discussion with DOT and important achievements

Though no talks were held at the time of strike, a few days later, Secretary DOT Shri Rakesh Garg called for a meeting with Forum leaders on 1st May 2015 in which all constituents of Forum participated. All Members of the Telecom Commission including Secretary USO Fund and BSNL Board members participated. As Convener of Forum, I presented the demands in detail with facts and figures, which were supplemented by Com.C.Singh, Chairman of Forum and by other leaders effectively. Decisions of the discussions are given below:

Assistance from USO Fund and ADC will continue. Rs.1250 from USO Fund will be immediately paid to BSNL. Efforts are being made to get the refund of Rs. 7000 crore paid in excess to Income tax authorities. Action for refund of the charges paid to BWA Spectrum is being processed. The issue of collection of pension contribution on the basis of the actual pay is being taken up with the government. The same with the refund of the salary paid by BSNL to the TERM CELL employees. BSNL will be allowed to take loan from Banks. Pension Revision w.e.f. 01-01-2007 is taken with the government. Cabinet note is being prepared for  78.2% IDA revision. Settling 60%-40% issue is under active consideration. No decision has been taken on BSNL-MTNL merger. Any decision on this will be taken only after consultation with unions. Vacant posts of BSNL Directors will be filled up early. The transfer of all BSNL assets to the PSU is being discussed between DOP and DOT. The demand that it should be made mandatory for all central departments to avail the services of BSNL is not feasible. The 30% retirement benefit to BSNL recruitees can be decided by BSNL.

As can be seen from the above, assurances were given on most of the major demands included in the two days strike. It was a big achievement of the workers.

Discussions were also held with the Chief Labour Commisioner on  strike issues. CLC demanded the management to implement the government orders on the various issues like Wages, EPF, ESI etc. to the contract labours engaged in BSNL.

Requested in the next meeting held on 12th June 2015 that I may be relieved from the post of Convener of the Forum of BSNL Unions and Associations, since have already vacated the post of President of BSNLEU in the Kolkata AIC held earlier. My resignation was reluctantly accepted only after it was intimated that BSNLEU has also taken a similar decision. Com.P.Abhimanyu, GS, BSNLEU, was elected as the new Convener.

Since 2004, I have been working as the Convener of the Joint Forum, Joint Action Committee, Forum etc. and the experiences were inspiring and encouraging.  It was not an easy task to co-ordinate all the unions and associations, which had different ideology, different priorities etc. It was only with the co-ordination and mutual respect of the leaders of the unions/associations that the Forum could move forward successfully. It is commendable that executives, who did not participate in earlier strikes, participated along with other constituents of the Forum. The aim of the Forum was to ensure a better service to the customers as also to ensure the rights of the workers. The decisions were taken in the Forum unanimously only and if there was any difference, it will be postponed and further discussed. The little differences that arose after membership verifications were discussed and settled without delay.

It was because of this strong unity within the Forum that BSNL Management was unable to implement many anti-worker decisions they have taken. Though government decided that 10% -25% shares of PSUs should be disinvested, it could not be implemented in BSNL due to staunch opposition of the unions. Even offer of 3% shares to workers was out rightly rejected. Management decided to implement VRS thrice, but they could not succeed. DOT was compelled to allot 3G Spectrum, though a bit late. Thousands of JTOs, JEs could be got recruited despite ban on recruitments. Anti-worker 60%-40% condition for payment of government pension could be removed ensuring full pension by government. The same Minister Communications who cancelled the mobile tender was compelled to float similar tender. Though government decided to stop assistance from ADC and USO Fund to BSNL, they had to agree to continue the same. The Pension Revision, though was not in the wage agreement, could be got implemented from 01-01-2007. Many programmes for Revival proposed by Forum could be implemented.

The position taken that discussions can only be with the BSNL Management had to be changed and many fruitful discussions were held with DOT as also Communications Minister and even with the Prime Minister.

I take this opportunity to express my sincere thanks and appreciation to the unions / associations and their leaders who fully co-operated and stood in the forefront in functioning of the Forum and implementing the various programmes including  several successful strikes. They include Comrades O.P.Gupta, M.B.Vichare, N.T.Sajwani, C.Singh (NFTE), G.L.Jogi, K.Sebastin, A.A.Khan (SNEA), Prahlad Rai, K.Sathyanarayana, P.Venugopal (AIBSNLEA), K.Vallinayagam,  Thomas John, K.Jaya Prakash (FNTO), R.Venkatraman, V.Subburaman, S.P.Sreevasthava, Rasheed Khan (TEPU), Suresh Kumar, Mallikarjun, V.Narayana (BSNLMS), V.K.Tomar (MTNLEA), K.M.Pillai (MTNLSW), S.Basu (BSNLEA), S.D.Sharma, Raj Kishore (BSNLWRU), Vrijesh Upadhyaya, Inder Dev Singh (MTNLMS), Umesh Thyagi (MTNLKVS), Satheesh Kumar (MTNLW) Devender Singh (MTNLOA), T.Muthukrishnan, B.R.Jakatiya, N.D.Ram, R.Ravindran (SEWA BSNL), A.K.Koushik (TEAM), S.V.S.Subramanhyam, V.R.Venugopal (BTEUBSNL), Dhiraj Choudhary, Hukam Singh, Sunil Gautam (SNATTA), Sathyabir Singh (MTNLMKU), Hari Singh(BTUBSNL), R.S.Yadav, K.Anil Kumar( BSNL ATM),              Patil, Devi Prasad(AIBCTES), R.K.Kohli(NFTBE), Jile Singh(NTSU), R.P.Sahu(AIGETOA), M.K.Bagchi(MTNL), P.Andiyappan (FNTOBEA), Rana Pratap(BEABSNL), Rakesh Sathi(AIBSNLOA)  and many others,  whom I might have forgotten to mention.

But the centre point was always BSNL Employees Union. They include Com.P.Abhimanyu, first as Deputy General Secretary and later as General Secretary, Com.J.N.Mishra, President, Balbir Singh President, Deputy General Secretaries Comrades P.Asokababu, Animesh Mitra, Swapan Chakraborty  and other office bearers. They were always in the front in leading and implementing the decisions. Com.R.S.Chauhan, Circle Secretary of Delhi NTR Circle and All India Organising Secretary was the captain along with Com.H.L.Makkar and other comrades who organized all the various programmes in Delhi effectively and with success. I salute all the comrades who made the functioning of the Forum a big success(contd.)

MY LIFE AND STRUGGLES – 70 BSNL – STRUGGLE FOR EXISTENCE (3)

BSNL – STRUGGLE FOR EXISTENCE (3)

One Day Strike on 5th December 2011

Against the move of BSNL to deny Bonus, Medical Allowance, Leave Encashment etc. to employees on the plea of loss to the company, one day strike was organised on 5th December 2011. Despite the strike, management was going on with its anti-worker decisions. Forum discussed this issue in detail and decided to organise further agitational programmes. The main demands focussed were merger of 78.2% IDA fixation, Pension Revision, Revision of Transport Allowance, Children Educational Allowance, Family Planning Allowance etc., Restoration of LTC, implementation of Child Care Leave and Retirement Benefits to the employees recruited in BSNL as per DPE directions. Indefinite Strike from 13th June 2012After protest demonstrations, dharna etc. notice for Indefinite Strike was served to start from 13th June 2012. CMD BSNL called for discussions and the same was held on 11 and 12th June with the unions affiliated to Forum. The following agreement was reached:

Pay will be revised with 78.@% fitment, Medical Reimbursement will be given with 68.8% fitment which will be revised later, all allowances will be paid as earlier, BSNL Board will take decision on Child Care Leave, Committee formed for the purpose will examine the case of retirement benefits to the BSNL recruited employees. On these assurances, strike was deferred. Even when the company was on loss, such an agreement could be made only due to the united struggle of the workers.

Parliament March on ITS issue on 22nd November 2012

On ITS absorption, government was playing hide and seek, without settling the issue. As per call of Forum, demonstrations and dharnas were organised. Savingrams were sent to Prime Minister, Minister Communications, Cabinet Secretary and DOT Secretary demanding immediate action. This was an issue concerned both with BSNL and MTNL. Hence unions of MTNL and BSNL jointly organised a massive Parliament March on 22nd November 2012 which was participated by more than 5,000 workers. The rally was presided by Com.C.Singh, Chairman Forum and addressed by Members of Parliament Basudeb Acharya (CPIM), Arjun Meghwal (BJP) and leaders of the Forum. A Memorandum was handed over to the Prime Minister’s office by Forum leaders.

At last, Child Care Leave was ordered on 8th March 2013, as per assurance, which benefitted women employees. As per High Court order in the case filed by unions, ITS officers on deputation to BSNL were sent back to DOT. But circumventing the High Court order, again they were granted ‘Permanent Deputation’ to BSNL. Forum submitted its suggestions in detail for the revival of BSNL to the Group of Ministers constituted by government with Shri P.Chidambaram, Finance Minister, as Chairman.

A National Convention was held in Mavlankar Hall, Delhi, on 3rd August 2013, under the auspices of Forum participated by more than 1000 delegates which discussed about the challenges faced by BSNL and its workers. Similar Conventions were held in circles and divisions and gave wide publicity among common people for the Declaration adopted by the Delhi Convention. Publicity was given in newspapers. Members of Parliament Dr. Sanjeeva reddy (INTUC), Basudeb Acharya, Khagan Das, P.R.Natarajan (CPIM), Gurudas Dasgupta (AITUC) and others raised these issues in the Parliament and criticised the government for discriminating BSNL.78.2% IDA merged with Pay

Forum issued notice for strike with effect from 12th June 2013 since the earlier assurances were not fully implemented. DOT intervened immediately and called the unions for discussion. Orders were issued for 78.2% IDA merger which was one of the most important demands raised and which benefitted the employees in a big way. This was a significant achievement, even when the company was in loss.

Telegraph Services discontinued

BSNL management decided to discontinue Telegraph services, which was introduced in India in 1854 along with Railways and was effectively working, being utilised by the public effectively. Forum of BSNL Unions and Associations strongly protested and demanded that it should be allowed to continue. Though number of telegrams was reduced due to introduction of mobile and connected technologies, many were still using the facility. As Convener of the Forum, I visited the major cities like Mumbai, Kolkata etc., held meetings of employees, collected all related information including the number of telegrams being booked and received and tried to convince BSNL Management that it will not be a loss, as there were more than 1000 telegrams in the major cities per day. Issued statements, interviews were broadcasted by BBC and other channels, but of no use. BSNL terminated the services with effect from 15th July 2013.

Tens of thousands of telegrams were booked by people on that day all over the country to use the service for the last time. In many CTOs, people were queuing even at midnight to send their last telegram. The employees worked till the last man booked. A farewell to the telegram service, which was part of the life of people for more than one century for sending and receiving news about death, birth, disease, victory in examination, appointment orders, messages from military , banks etc.etc. On our demand a Telegraph Museum was started in the Kolkata CTO building.

Retirement benefit to Direct Recruitees increased

Retirement benefits to BSNL Direct Recruitees were limited to 18% only, whereas the demand raised by unions was 30%. Discussion took place with the High Power Committee appointed for the purpose and was able to get increased to 20%. Efforts continued for further increase.

Anti-worker recommendations of Deolitte CommitteeThe Deloittee Committee appointed by BSNL gave its report recommending VRS, reduction of posts etc. in the name of improvement of BSNL. Forum protested and demanded BSNL not to accept these anti-BSNL, anti-worker recommendations and organised protest demonstrations including at the place where the Conference of the Circle Heads were being held.Hectic Campaign for revival of BSNLAs per decision of the Forum, leaders at various levels met hundreds of Members of Parliament, explained present position of BSNL and the need to revive it. Many of them raised the issue in Parliament.

The Parliament March organised in this connection on 25th February 2015 was participated by thousands of workers from all the circles. The March started from Sanchar Bhawan, Head Quarters of BSNL, moved through Janpath, Tolstoy Marg, Jantan Mantar despite no-permission from the Police, till it was stopped near Parliament Police Station. The rally held there was addressed by central trade union leaders Tapan Sen M.P.(CITU), Brijesh Upadhyay (BMS), Shiv Gopal Mishra (HMS – AIRF), Amarjith Kaur (AITUC), Dr.Dharam Vir Gandhi (AAP) and also leaders of the Forum. Forum representatives went to the Prime Minister’s Office and handed over the lakhs of signatures collected from the people demanding revival of BSNL. (to be continued). Photos: BSNL Revival Convention

MY LIFE AND STRUGGLES – 69 BSNL – STRUGGLES FOR EXISTENCE (2)

  1. BSNL – STRUGGLES FOR EXISTENCE (2)

Indefinite Strike from 26th February 2008

Government again planned to disinvest shares of BSNL in 2007. Joint Forum immediately protested, sent letter to Prime Minister, Communications Minister, DOT etc. Since no favourable reply received, issued notice for Indefinite Strike from 26th February 2008, on major demands including against disinvestment. Secretary DOT Shri Sidharth Bahure called a meeting and discussed the issues with JF leaders gave the following assurances:

  1. Proposed 10% disinvestment will not be implemented.
  2. If employees do not want, VRS will not be implemented.
  3. 60% – 40% issue of Pension will be taken up with government for settlement
  4. 2G, 3G Spectrum will be allotted without delay
  5. Cabinet Note will be prepared on BSNL financial viability
  6. Justification for Navaratna status submitted to higher committee.
  7. Cabinet Note is being prepared for absorption of ITS officers.

On the basis of the assurances, the strike was deferred. Since there was delay in implementation of the assurances, again met Secretary DOT. He told that Cabinet Note on ITS has come back and the clarifications sought are being submitted. Minister has approved the note on 60%-40% issue on pension and it will be submitted to Cabinet. In lieu of ADC, Rs. 2000 crore will be paid to BSNL.DPE has approved Navaratna status for BSNL and has submitted to Government. One portion of 2G Spectrum will be immediately allotted to BSNL.

Detailed discussion was held with CMD BSNL Shri Kuldeep Goyal on 27th May 2008 about expansion plans. He stated that orders are issued for 3.5 crore mobile lines and that another 9.3 crores lines tender is being prepared. Union gave valuable suggestions.

Since there was delay in merger of 50% IDA in pay, three days dharna was organized from 28th May 2008 at circle and divisional levels and at Corporate Office. During dharna, received invitation from Minister Shri A.Raja for discussion. Minister informed that CMD has been instructed to issue orders. By evening of the day orders were issued and dharna terminated.

On the issue of ITS absorption in BSNL, continuous struggle was organized including dharnas. JF demanded that if ITS are not absorbed, all others who are absorbed in BSNL should be taken back as government employees like ITS officers.

Indefinite Strike and Agreement, April 2008

It was at this time that  that the committee headed  by former Secretary DOT and telecom expert  Shri Sam Pitroda submitted its report to government recommending disinvestment of 30% shares of BSNL, retrench one lakh employees through VRS, copper cables of BSNL should be shared with private companies and works should be outsourced.

Against this anti-worker – anti-BSNL recommendations and demanding ITS absorption purchase of mobile lines, Pension Revision etc. Unions/associations gave notice for indefinite strike. The strike started on 20th April 2008, which was a great success with telecom services paralyzed. Press gave wide publicity with statements of the JF. AIBDPA and BSNLCCWF gave full support. Coms. Tapan Sen M.P. and Basudeb Acharya M.P. raised these issues in the Parliament.

Realising the serious situation Communications Minister Shri A.Raja contacted me over telephone and called for a meeting. Along with Minister, Secretary DOT Shri P.J.Thomas, CMD Shri Kuldip Goyal and other top officers were present. JF leaders presented the demands in detail. After discussion for about two and half hours, the following assurances were received in writing from the Minister:

Cabinet Note will be prepared and submitted to Cabinet Secretary within 4 months after obtaining reports from concerned Ministries, in between Management trainees will be recruited, selling of shares will be decided only after discussion with the unions as also VRS and outsourcing. 2 crores mobile lines will be purchased this year and one crore next year. Cabinet Note will be prepared and sent on pension revision for those retired before 01.01.2007. Approval of DOT will be given for wage negotiation within 15 days and CMD BSNL will discuss 78.2% IDA issue with the unions.

Joint Forum considered these written assurances and withdrew the strike on the same day by about 15.30 hours. Due to  complete participation of  workers in the strike, massive propaganda as also the helpful attitude of the Minister resulted in the favourable agreement. VRS decision could be stopped for the second time.

Tens of thousands of Post Cards were sent to Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh demanding that Rs. 18,500 crore taken from BSNL in the name of 3G and BWC Spectrum should be refunded to BSNL. In continuation, on the urgent issue of purchasing of one crore mobile connection and refund of Rs.18,500, JF leaders went to Coimbatore and met Communications Minister A.Raja, who was there attending the World Tamil Conference, on 24th June 2010 and persuaded for early action.

National Convention of BSNL Workers on 19th July 2010

As per decision of the JF, a National Convention of BSNL workers was held on 19th July 2010 at Mavlankar Hall, New Delhi. Convener presented the demands and  action plan. M.K.Pandhe (CITU), B.Sanjeeva Reddy (INTUC), G.L.Dhar (AITUC), Prabir Purkayastha (Delhi Science Forum) and other leaders addressed giving valuable suggestions. The Declaration presented was approved and decided for a three days strike on the urgent demands. In continuation, similar conventions were held in all circles.

In preparation of the declared strike, a Parliament March was held with participation of about 4,000 workers on 15th November 2010. One day dharna was organised on 15th October protesting against denial of due Bonus.

Indefinite Strike from 1st December 2010

As per earlier decision, Indefinite Strike started from 1st December 2010 on the major demands of the BSNL workers, which was fully participated all over the country. Confederation of CG Employees and Workers, NFPE, AIIEA, AIBDPA, BSNLCCWF BEFI etc. gave support and solidarity.

On the second day of the strike Secretary DOT called for discussion and the same was held. Joint Forum expressed its strong protest against the non-implementation of the earlier assurances and criticised the inaction and going back from the assurances by the management and DOT. After hours of discussions on the following written agreement, strike was withdrawn:

There will be no disinvestment and IPO. Cables will not be unbundled (not shared). Cabinet Note on Pension Revision will be immediately submitted to Cabinet Secretary. Cabinet Note on ITS absorption had already sent to concerned ministries. Required mobile lines will be purchased immediately. BSNL will take decision on 78.2% IDA merger. Improvement of BSNL finance will be discussed with government.

During this period it was known that BRPSE had recommended for implementation of VRS in BSNL, reduction of retirement age from 60 to 58 and merger of Indian Telephone Industries (ITI) with BSNL. As per call of JF protest demonstrations were organised on 5th April 2011. Memorandum was given to Communications Minister Shri Kapil Sibal and Parliament Standing Committee on issues like policy to be adopted in grant of telecom licence and fixing of prices.

‘Customer Delight Month’, ‘Employees Awareness Week’.

The Unions proposed and discussed with the management about observance of ‘Customer Delight Month’ (later extended as Customer Delight Year), ‘Employees’ Awareness Week’ and other programmes and implemented the same resulting in much improvement of the services.

Joint Forum protested against the move of the central government to take over the buildings and sites of BSNL for CCA and other central establishments and sent letters to Prime Minister, Minister Communications, and Secretary DOT on the issue. The move by government was to take over the assets of BSNL.

Since ITS absorption issue was being delayed, as per decision of Forum, case was filed in Delhi High Court jointly by BSNLEU, SNEA and AIBSNLEA. Forum gave detailed suggestions to Communications Minister to be included in the National Telecom Policy -2011. (To be continued)

MY LIFE AND STRUGGLES – 68 BSNL – STRUGGLES FOR EXISTENCE (1)

  1. BSNL – STRUGGLES FOR EXISTENCE (1)

Mention has already been made in earlier chapters about the struggles and strikes organised by E.III/E.III (N) union along with likeminded unions under the banner of National Action Committee during the 1990s against corporatization / privatization of telecom services hitherto maintained by Department of Telecom.  After formation of BSNL in 2000, there were lot of problems connected with  service and wage conditions of employees as also problems arisen due to transfer of services from a government department to a PSU. These were dealt with suitably by the union through negotiation and struggles.

It may not be preferable to go in detail about the struggles and organizational activities  as part of a life story, but it will not be correct also to omit these sustained struggles participated by lakhs of workers in order to safeguard the interests of the public and for existence of this prestigious PSU, BSNL.  I also was part of this great crusade.

Most important issue was the existence of BSNL. Both BJP as well as Congress governments, which succeeded one after another, conspired to privatize this much profitable public utility. While all facilities and subsidies were granted to private telecom companies, ignored its own company. Government had understood that growth of BSNL is always a threat  to private companies.  The latter were eagerly waiting to grab the thousands of acres of prime land and buildings of BSNL, mainly in the cities and major towns across the country.

BSNL received licence for mobile services only in 2002, about long 7 years after  same was granted to private companies. But within few years, reached second position and was going to be in first position. Made yearly profit of around Rs.10,000 crores. BSNL was expanding with the full support of  workers, despite corporatization.

Well realizing that joint effort is a must to continue  expansion and better service, as the recognized union, BSNLEU contacted all unions and associations in BSNL and MTNL and took  initiative in forming  Joint Forum of BSNL- MTNL Unions/Associations, which  organized innumerable  struggles for the above purpose. I got the opportunity to work as the Convener of the Joint Forum 2004 to 2015. Although vacated the post of General Secretary of BSNLEU in 2010, continued till 2015 as Convener on the insistence of all the constituents. Though functioned first as Joint Forum of BSNL – MTNL unions/associations, due to certain developments changed  to Joint forum of BSNL unions/associations later. A short report is given in the following paragraphs about the struggles and agitations organized under the joint Forum/ Forum etc. 

First programme organized was a mammoth March to  residence of Communications Minister on 21st December 2004. The main demand was that the Access Deficit Charge (ADC) to be collected from  private companies and to be handed over to BSNL, as assured at the time of corporatization, should not be reduced. ADC was intended to compensate BSNL for the huge expenses it was incurring to provide services in the remote areas and villages, where private companies refused to enter. Reduction going to be made was to favour  private companies. A Memorandum on this and other issues was given to the Prime Minster on the same day.

Organised demonstration at all levels on 8th February 2005 protesting against increase of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in telecom sector from 49% to 74%.

Government was moving to merge BSNL and MTNL in to one company. Joint Forum insisted that the shares sold by MTNL should be bought back and loans taken by MTNL should be written off before merger is done. Eventually government dropped the plan.

Joint Forum leaders along with Members of Parliament, Coms.Basudeb Acharya and Neelotpal Basu met Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh on 2nd March 2005 and submitted a Memorandum on restoration of reduced ADC, against FDI increase, against BSNL-MTNL merger, for justified allotment from USO Fund, the unjustified discrimination against BSNL by TRAI etc and discussed for more than half hour. Prime Minister assured that  government is duty bound to give all help to BSNL and MTNL and that the issues included in the Memorandum will be favourably considered. It was significant that this was the first meeting the unions had with the Prime Minister after formation of BSNL.

One issue which the Joint Forum has brought to  notice of Prime Minister was settled immediately. DOT issued orders on 13th March 2005 stating that the pension of DOT officials absorbed in BSNL will be fully paid by the central government. Another demand raised that the copper cables of  BSNL should not be privatised was also accepted.

But at the same time, news came in the papers that the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs has decided to sell shares 6 profitable PSUs, including BSNL. Fully justified ‘Navaratna’ status was denied to BSNL.  ITS officers were not absorbed in BSNL, which was against growth of the company. Anti-BSNL decisions were being taken one after another. Raising these and other issues, notice for strike on 5th January 2006 was served.

When meeting of JF was being held at about 20.00 hours on 4th January, call came from Shri J.S.Sharma, Secretary DOT, asking to meet him immediately at Sanchar Bhawan to discuss the strike issues. Indication was given that he was calling from the office of the Prime Minister.  Though the JF was of the opinion that there is no use in a discussion in last minute, decided that Convener alone can go and come back after confirming our strike decision. Officers were waiting at the gate of Sanchar Bhawan. Took me to the DOT Secretary’s room immediately. He was alone. He asked what the important demands of the strike are. I gave him copy of the notice and explained. He called Shri Yeshwant Bhave, Additional Secretary, who was in the next room and dictated a letter which was typed in the computer and copy given to me.  It assured that:

  1. There is no proposal regarding disinvestment in BSNL
  2. Unbundling of the local loop is not under consideration
  3. All efforts will be made towards obtaining ‘Navaratna’ status to BSNL
  4. Views of the union will be considered as and when the Draft Telecom Policy is formulated.

He stated that other demands also will be sympathetically considered.

Returned immediately, reported to JF the developments. JF decided to defer the strike as some of the major demands have been accepted. It is significant that none of these assurances have been violated so far, even though certain moves were there.

As per call of Joint Forum, protest demonstrations were held all over India on 1st March 2006, against the continued concessions being given to the private telecoms reducing payment to ADC as well as revenue sharing. JF issued press statement against proposal of the government to share BSNL towers with private companies.

Met Shri Dayanidhi Maran, Communications Minister on 12th July 2006 along with senior M.P. and leader of CPI (M) in Lok Sabha, Com. Basudeb Acharya and discussed issues. He stated that even capitalist US had not unbundled cables and assured that it will not be done here also.

Thousands of telegrams were sent to Prime Minister on 27th July 2006 demanding that shares of BSNL/MTNL should not be sold, no unbundling of cables, no sharing of PSU infrastructure, no increase in FDI, no reduction in ADC and revenue sharing, grant of Navaratna status, autonomy for PSUs, expansion of mobile services and immediate absorption of ITS in BSNL.

More than 12,000 BSNL-MTNL employees organized a mammoth Parliament March on 3rd August 2006, on the above demands, which was addressed by Members of Parliament Basudeb Acharya, Sitaram Yechury and Roop Chand Pal.

Agitational programmes were organised and discussion held with Secretary DOT on the decision  of DOT  that if pension amount is more than 60 % of the taxes, Licence Fee, Dividend etc. paid by BSNL, then the balance of pension will have to be paid by BSNL (60%-40%). JF demanded that the earlier decision to pay pension in full by   government should be ensured. It was also demanded that the CGEGIS should be refunded to the employees.

At this time, BSNL management had floated global tender for 4.5 crore mobile phones (GSM) to meet the increased demand, but the same was questioned by the private companies in the Supreme Court on various flimsy grounds and got stayed. By one year the SC cleared the tender dismissing objections. Unfortunately, Communications Minister A.Raja intervened and cancelled the tenders on the plea that the cost is high compared to the MTNL tender earlier. It was not that he did not know that this tender was technically superior than earlier tender. It was only to support the private companies.

Joint Forum opposed the decision and decided on agitational programmes including indefinite strike from 11th July 2007, since this was an issue which will have serious repercussions on the growth of the company. Discussions with the Secretary, DOT failed to resolve the issue. Minister met the JF leaders on 10th July evening and gave some vague assurances, but that too not in writing.

The strike started in the mid night of 10th/11th as given notice of. The entire workforce of 3,40,000  executives and non-executives went on strike. The biggest strike after formation of BSNL.  Even in Corporate Office, all except top officers on strike. Telecom services all over the country paralysed. Workers understood that this was a do or die struggle. All newspapers published the news in front page with priority. Editorials criticizing government were published. The country heard with shock the cancellation of the mobile tender for 4.5 crores which would have benefitted the people at large. Central government was in the dock.

The strike had lightning effect. Minister called and discussed with Joint Forum and assured that immediate action will be taken on tender. Within one week fresh tender was placed, but only for 2.275 crore, which was half of the earlier tender. At least  immediate requirement was met.

Government again started for implementation of VRS, for 20,000 employees this time. Management had to retreat due to strong opposition from the Joint Forum and threat of agitation and assured that VRS will not be implemented without discussion with unions.

A vastly attended Seminar was held at the Eastern Court premises Delhi on 7th September 2007 on the development and expansion of BSNL services attended by thousands of workers. Presidents of all constituent unions/associations of JF presided. Veteran leaders M.K.Pandhe (CITU), Sitaram Yechuri M.P.(CPIM), Gurudas Dasgupta M.P.(AITUC), Harish Rawat M.P.(Congress), Kuppusamy M.P.(DMK) and others addressed. Leaders of unions/associations addressed and explained the issues.(to be continued).

 

 

 

TRAGEDY IN UTTARAKHAND – OUR CONDOLENCES: AIBDPA

Many lives are reported to be lost in the glacial burst on Nandadevi triggered an avalanche and the resultant flash floods in Rishiganga and Dhauliganga rivers in Chamoli District of Uttarakhand. It was a sunny day on 7th inst and everything normal untill the tragedy hit the area. The Tapovan hydel project of NTPC was completely washed away and the several workers aslo swept away. Many people are reported to be missing and rescue operations are going on in full swing. Some of the bodies have been recovered while 16 people rescued .The actual loss of human lives and property may be known later only.

AIBDPA is saddened on the great loss and condole the demises of the people and stand with the people of Uttarakhand at this hour of calamity.

MY LIFE AND STRUGGLES – 66 ALL INDIA CONFERENCES (1)

  1. ALL INDIA CONFERENCES (1)

ERODE AIC – 1999

After Thiruvananthapuram All India conference in 1994, the next AIC of E.III / E.III (N) was held in Erode, T.Nadu from 13th to 17th May 1999. The long delay in holding  AIC was due to the dispute created by OPG group, the membership verification and numerous court cases. The Reception Committee with Com. S.Mohandoss as President and Com.S.Chellappa as General Secretary made excellent arrangements for the conference.

Com.K.Adinarayana, President of NFPE and legendry leader of P & T employees, inaugurated the Conference. Coms. Brinda Karat, John Moses (Janatha Dal), Viduthalai Thirumbi, M.P., Moni Bose and other leaders addressed. Detailed discussion took place on organizational matters as well as problems of the workers. Decided to organize strong agitational programmes against corporatization/ privatization of telecom services. 

All India Conference elected Coms. K.D.M.Tripathi as President and V.A.N.Namboodiri as General Secretary and G.J. Sheikh as Treasurer.

FORMATION CONFERENCE OF BSNLEU AT VISAKHAPATNAM

The Formation / First Conference of BSNLEU was held at Visakhapatnam on 21-22 March 2021, about which mention has been made earlier. Next AICs were held in time and as per the constitution of the union.

LUCKNOW AIC – 2003

II AIC of BSNLEU was held at Lucknow, capital of U.P. and historical city, on 2-5 June 2003. Best arrangements were made for holding the conference under the leadership of senior leaders Com.R.S.Yadav, K.D.M.Tripathy, O.P.Verma, K.R.Yadav and others.

Com. E.Balanandan, President CITU, and always a guide to BSNLEU, inaugurated the AIC. Spoke about the task in the trade union front and the need to strengthen the public sector, including BSNL. For the first time, on our invitation, a team of delegates from Telecommunication Employees Association of Nepal (TEAN) led by its President Com. Thankalal Shrestha attended and greeted the conference. They were given a warm welcome by the delegates.

It was terrible heat, rising up to about 48 degrees and sitting in the spacious tent in the maidan was most difficult. Then came the cyclonic  storm and torrential rain due to which the tent, decorations etc. were washed away. It was only due to tremendous efforts on the part of the  reception committee volunteers that necessary arrangements were made to conduct the conference in the next three days.

The Conference discussed about organizational matters. Strategies were chalked out for winning next membership verification. Office bearers with Comrades J.N.Mishra as President, V.A.N.Namboodiri as General Secretary, P.Abhimanyu as Dy. General Secretary and Nafe Singh as Treasurer were unanimously elected.

GUWAHATI AIC – 2006

Next AIC was held at Guwahati, capital of Assam, from 26th to 29th January 2006.  Reception Committee was headed by Dr. Muniril Hussain with All India President Com.J.N.Mishra as General Convener. Very good arrangements were made for holding the AIC and for accommodation. Thousands of people attended the open session with 745 delegates, 450 observers and the public.

Com.Chithabrata Majumdar, General Secretary, CITU inaugurated. Secretary DOT and other top officers of DOT and BSNL were present. In the Trade Union Seminar, leaders of the various unions in BSNL addressed and presented their view points about improving the services. When O.P.Gupta made some caustic comments about BSNLEU, the delegates shouted slogans protesting against the unjustified remarks. General Secretary intervened and requested the delegates to keep calm and stated that he is our invitee. He also stated that suitable reply will be given to his speech. Com.Sudha Sunderaraman, General Secretary of AIDWA inaugurated the Mahila Convention, which was participated by many women delegates and others.

Despite the threat of certain terrorist groups of Assam that National Flag should not be hoisted, the same was hoisted as usual in the AIC venue and kept it safe till the end of the conference. This incident gave encouragement to the people of Assam.

Saplings were planted by Secretary DOT, CMD, Union General Secretary and others in the CGM Office premises where the conference was held. When I went there a few years back, all these have grown up in to big trees.

This was the first AIC after winning the Membership Verification for the first time and getting recognition after a decade. Problems were discussed in detail and decided to effectively take up with management for settlement. Office-bearers with Com.J.N.Mishra, V.A.N.Namboodiri, P.Abhimanyu and Nafe Singh were elected as President, General Secretary, Deputy General Secretary and Treasurer respectively.

MUMBAI AIC – 2008

Fourth AIC of BSNLEU was held in Mulund in the financial capital of India, Mumbai, from 13th to 16th February 2008. A record number of delegates (1359) and observers (2109) participated. Despite this unusual number which created a difficult situation, the Reception Committee headed by Mayor of Mumbai Smt. Dr. Shubha Raul as Chairman and Comrade G.Mathpati as General Secretary, managed the arrangements comfortably.

CITU President, Com.M.K.Pandhe, inaugurated the conference. He spoke about the international and national situation and the present task of the workers. Shri A.Raja, Communications Minister attended and explained the various actions being taken to improve BSNL. It was for the first time after many years that a Communications Minister attended the AIC. There were many top officers of DOT and BSNL along with Minister.

International delegates Comrades Dulsi Desilva (Srilanaka), Vice-President of WFTU and  Gopal Dhakal (TEAN), (who was later appointed as Director of Nepal Communications) with his team attended and addressed, explaining the situation in their countries. Shri   Arvind Sawant, M.P. (later Central Minister) also addressed. He stated that he is under treatment in the hospital but had come to address as he could not reject the invitation from Com.Namboodiri. I had earlier mentioned about my visit to him before the verification of membership and the friendly reception.

Discussion took place on the various issues and organization. Membership has increased as also responsibility.

Coms. J.N.Mishra, V.A.N.Namboodiri, P.Abhimanyu and S.C.Bhattacharjee were elected as President, General Secretary, Deputy General Secretary and Treasurer respectively.

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM AIC – 2010

The Fifth All India conference of BSNLEU held at Thiruvananthapuram on 12-15 May 2010 was significant in many respects. The Reception Committee with Com.Anavoor Nagappan as Chairman, Com.R.Muralidharan Nair as Working Chairman with Com.K.Mohanan as General Convener made excellent arrangements for holding the conference as also accommodation etc.

Com. M.K.Pandhe, Vice-President, CITU, inaugurated the AIC. In the seminar held on the subject ‘Challenges faced by     BSNL’, Com.Kodiyeri Balakrishnan,  Home Minister, Kerala  and trade union leaders participated. Com.Tapan Sen, General Secretary CITU, criticized the anti-worker policies of the central government. Com.K.Hemalatha, Convener, All India Working Women’s Committee, addressed. Dr. Thomas Isaac, Finance Minister, Kerala, spoke in detail about the financial issues the country faced.

AIC decided to construct an office for the union at Delhi. An amount of Rs. 3,70,900 was received as donation from the delegates on the spot. The procession participated by thousands of workers were greeted on the route by various trade unions by shouting of slogans and flowers. The delegates from the various states were enthused by these greetings, which showed the close relationship between BSNLEU and other trade unions. 

Thiruvananthapuram had special significance as mentioned above. The first conference after settling the pay revision, four promotions in service, a very good performance in the membership verification and so on. Hence the AIC was a conference of celebrating these successes. All the delegates were happy about these developments and expressed their appreciation.

Another point is about the change in the Chief Executive post. Since the All India conference of E. III Union in Thiruvananthapuram in 1994, I have been continuing as General Secretary of E.III / E.III(N) Union and that of BSNL Union since its formation in 2001, thus a total of the last 16 years. I was for a change in the Mumbai AIC in 2008, but comrades were not prepared to allow me to be relieved, especially in the situation when negotiation on the crucial Pay Revision, Five promotions etc were in the process.

Now the situation is different. Along with the two issues above, many other problems were settled. The organization also has become stronger with a steady base of dedicated workers and experienced leaders. Also my earlier decision not to continue more than four terms in a post. The best opportunity to hand over the baton to the next generation. Though there was much pressure on me to continue from the delegates and leaders, convinced them about the need of the time. Reminded them about the decision at  Guwahati Conference  only to elect working employees, in which I only was exempted due to the special requirement of the organization. Now that situation no more existed.

Accordingly Com.P.Abhimanyu, Deputy General Secretary since 2003 Lucknow AIC, was unanimously elected as the new General Secretary. I was elected as President of the Union, as workers felt that at least I should be there in the team. Com.P.Asokababu, who was AGS earlier, was elected as Deputy General Secretary and Com.S.C.Bhattacharjee as Treasurer. 

Though changed from the post of General Secretary to that of President, continued to stay at Delhi as per decision of the union.