The first meeting of the National Council in BSNL after the VI Membership Verification is yet to be held, though more than 5 months have elapsed after the result of the verification has been announced. Since the Council has been constituted and the items are going to be furnished by the Staff Side, it is expected that the same will be held shortly. It will be the XXIX Meeting of the National Council.
What has been the experience of the XXVIII meetings of the National Council held earlier? What are the items discussed and what are the results? A review of the same will be helpful in the future functioning of the Council effectively.
First Membership Verification and decisions
In the meeting held in February 2001 to finalise the Membership Verification, there was one important issue to be decided ; how the Verification is to be conducted. NFTE BSNL insisted that the Membership Verification should be through ‘Check Off’ system, ie. by getting signed forms from the members for the union they support and deduction of membership on that basis. BSNLEU and many other unions suggested that the verification should be conducted through voting through ‘Secret Ballot’ as in the case of Assembly and Parliament elections. Finally the decision arrived at was that the verification should be through secret ballot and as per the Code of Discipline accepted by the Central Trade Unions decades back. Another issue was that how many unions are to be recognised. The Chief Labour Commissioner, who was present, stated that it all the unions agree, more than one union can be recognised after approval by the Labour Ministry. Since one union, NFTE, opposed the proposal, decision could not be taken in the matter.
First Membership Verification
The First Membership Verification was held on 25th September 2002 and the result announced three days after on 28th September. NFTE got the first position with 35.25% votes and BSNLEU came second with 29.98%. Only one union, NFTE was recognised.
The National Council was formed and the Staff Side members were nominated by NFTE. In addition to its members, some of the members of FNTO were also nominated. Though BSNL Management did not accept those nominations first, after discussion they were also accepted, provided they give a certificate agreeing the nomination by NFTE.
First Meeting of National Council – 29th January 2003
The First Council Meeting was held on 29th January 2003. Com.M.B.Vichare was the Leader and Com. O.P.Gupta, the Secretary Staff Side. Interestingly a decision was taken in that meeting that Standing Committee is not required. (There is a provision for Standing Committee which will review the progress of action taken on the decisions of the NC). It is not understood why such a decision was taken.
Another decision was with regard to the 2000 wage revision stating that “ seniors getting less than juniors is not an anomaly”. It was agreed that Council offices at all levels, National, Circle and SSA levels, will be provided with service telephones. It was also decided to continue with GPF for the BSNL absorbed employees.
II Meeting of NC – 28th May 2003
This council meeting agreed to the demand of NFTE that members of other unions can be nominated to the council. Accordingly FNTO leaders Thomas John, K.Vallinayagam and Vasisht were made as members with the condition that they accept NFTE’s nomination.
The meeting decided that “OTBP/BCR Scheme will be continued as General Promotion Policy till next wage revision”. NFTE strongly opposed giving facilities to BSNLEU, the second union as per the Membership Verification.
III Meeting of NC – 20th October 2003
It was assured by the Management that Management Committee of BSNL Board will have discussion with union before arriving at any decision on the issues discussed in the NC.
IV Meeting of NC – 28th November 2003
In this meeting it was conveyed by the Official Side to the Staff Side that the latter should not have any apprehension regarding retrenchment of staff on account of being declared surplus and that no such proposal is under the consideration of the management. It was also decided that there will be no separate council for Civil Wing.
V Meeting of NC – 24th March 2004
It was decided to form a Joint Committee, which will discuss and give suggestions to the BSNL Management on the issue of Compulsory Retirement of BSNL Employees.
The above committee was also entrusted to discuss the issue VRS Scheme. The Staff Side opposed the VRS and wanted Voluntary Replacement Scheme. This will be discussed by the Committee.
VI Meeting of NC – 17th June 2004
It was agreed that a“ Scheme VRS/CRS may be introduced in to the system keeping in view overall objective under which the proposals have been worked out.”
Special Meeting with CMD on 14-07-2004
The decision of the Ministry of Finance to collect full cost of pension and its impact on BSNL was discussed in the meeting. The CMD informed the union that it was decided again to refer the issue to government. Another issue was with regard to GPF for the absorbed employees. The Management reiterated that it has no alternative but to go in for setting up a Provident Fund Trust for managing the GPF amount and requested the union to take an early action in this regard.
As stated above, there were six meetings of the National Council and a special meeting with CMD after a programme of agitation was given notice of. It can be seen in the minutes of these meetings that the Management was pushing through its agenda of VRS/CRS, retrenchment, issues on Pension etc. Though opposing at the initial stage, the staff side was gradually accepting the view point of the official side.
Another and more important was connected with the functioning of the Council and the Recognition itself. As in the DOT period, it was better to have two unions recognised, which will improve the position of the staff side with more % of support. In fact, the management had no objection for the same provided all unions accepted the condition. NFTE alone objected to the proposal and defeated it. This turned against NFTE itself in all verifications till Vth, resulting in denial of recognition to it. It could recognition in the VI Membership Verification in 2013, after the condition of two unions were accepted.
Secondly, as in the National Council for the Central Government Employees and in the Departmental Councils including that of DOT, the Chairman of the Council used to be the Cabinet Secretary in the former case and Secretary, DOT in the latter with all Members of the telecom Commission as members in the Departmental Council. This helped in implementing the decisions of the councils since those who are to take decisions are all present. In the same way, in BSNL, the Chairman of the Council should have been the CMD and all the Directors of Management Committee should have been members. Though NFTE requested that CMD should be Chairman of NC, it meekly agreed to the position of the Management and agreed that the Director (HR) can be the Chairman with Director (Finance) also present. Other Directors are not members of the NC. This has resulted in devaluing the position of the NC and many decisions taken in the council were either not implemented or got implemented with much delay.
It would have been possible to get favourable decisions on these two issues, if the Staff Side has taken a strong position, but it did not happen which resulted a lot of problems later. However, it was not the first time that NFTE compromised on basic issues, as is well known to telecom workers.