BSNL employees are on a two-day national strike on 12th and 13th of December in pursuit of their demands to prevent the central government from undermining the public sector enterprise and revision of wages through the 3rd pay commission (for BSNL). Initial reports suggest that the strike was total and successful. All unions, recognized and unrecognized, participated in the strike.
In Chennai, union leaders and employees picketed office premises. All office based transactions, fault correction and maintenance work came to a halt.
Speaking to Thozhilalar Koodam, the Adyar branch secretary of BSNL EU (BSNL Employees Union) said that all the 150 employees in their branch were on strike. They had also locked the gate of the main office. He said that they had been negotiating their demands for long and have given proper notice to the management before going on strike. “we have only two demands,
1. The government should revise our wage. They have not appointed the third pay commission even after one year of the previous agreement lapsing. There are many discrepancies and the wages have to be revised.
2. The government is planning to steadily privatize telecom. Now they are proposing to rent our towers to private companies. This is a scam. This is will bring the cost of operations for private companies down, while we will lose out on expansion and service. The politicians are trying to help private companies. BSNL was a critical PSU. They are steadily forcing it to go in loss so that they can sell it off. We are fighting against this move” he said.
Mr Ramesh, Junior Accounts Officer and deputy circle (Adyar) secretary of SEWA BSNL said that BSNL has not seen any significant recruitment from 1995. Clerical and junior technical jobs had not been filled since 1988. This has led to a severe depletion of the effective work force. “ There is not enough people to handle regular maintenance tasks. we don’t have enough qualified staff to repair faults in time. we don’t have the funds to buy materials and undertake repairs. If we take a week to rectify a fault, the customer shifts service provider. We lose business. But how much can a technician do. Now they are also selling away our assets in the name of setting a new company for the towers. This is a plan to destroy the PSU and say its going in loss” he said.
Customers who came to the office were surprised to know about the strike. It was mostly elderly persons who could not access services like ‘address change’, ‘lock connection’ through online systems. The workers present at the picket did not discuss the reasons for the strike with the customers, who left a bit inconvenienced. One person, was going out of station for more than a month and wanted his connection to be placed in ‘lock’. He was not sure how to get it done because the strike was to continue even tomorrow. It is highly likely that the customers would have appreciated the demands of the workers and supported their initiative if they had better information about the demands of the strike.
The BSNL employees said that the two day strike is only a prelude. If their demands are not met they will be forced to take an indefinite strike to force the government to stop the anti-psu, anti-worker policies.
The government has been pursuing anti-PSU policies to undermine government-run services in other sectors also. A prominent example is that of the Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation, see here.