The contract and casual workers of BSNL continue to remain unpaid for as high as twelve months in Varanasi, the constituency represented by the prime minister himself.

The workers affiliated to the Tamil Nadu Telecom Contract and Casual Workers’ Union (TNTCWU), along with their family members, held a dharna on Thursday seeking immediate disbursal of wages. The BSNL management has not paid the wages for the casual and contract workers for the past several months.

Earlier this month, the central trade unions, BSNL Employees’ Union (BSNLEU) and the BSNL Casual and Contract Workers’ Federation (BSNLCCWF) submitted memorandum to the district labour welfare officers insisting on the same demand. The other struggles of the workers too have failed to attract the attention of the central government.

Apathy of Government

The casual and contract workers, who are largely underpaid, are facing apathy of the Centre as well as the BSNL administration. Their wages have not been paid for the past several months, which has sent lives of the workers out of gear. Tamil Nadu state police have also denied permission for conducting the demonstrations in many places.

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The Assistant General Secretary of BSNLCCWF C Palanichamy, after addressing the dharna in Madurai on Thursday, told NewsClick, “The condition of the contract and casual workers is highly pathetic. The salary for the workers is pending for as long as seven months in Nagercoil telecom district, making it the longest in the state. Even worse is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency Varanasi, where the wages have been pending for almost a year. This shows how lethargic the government is about the welfare of the contract workers and the BSNL itself.”

Contract Workers Outnumber Regular Employees

The BSNL has a permanent workforce of 1,15,000; whereas, the contract and casual workers amount to 1,20,000. The majority of the works including service and maintenance are carried out by the contract and casual workers across the country. The welfare of these workers has been overlooked for years together. The BSNL, as the primary employer, is responsible for the payment of wages and ensuring safe working conditions. But the non-payment of funds to the vendor companies has resulted in hardships for the workers, making the BSNL the prime defaulter.

The wages paid to the contract and casual workers vary from place to place across the country. The rule of same pay for same work too is not followed. In addition, they are deprived of social welfare measures also.

Predatory Pricing Pushing BSNL into Crisis

The income of the BSNL has drastically decreased since the Reliance Jio hit the market with the blessings of the government, while the number of subscribers continues to increase.

“The income of BSNL stood around Rs 32,000 crores during 2016-17, whereas the income fell to Rs. 19,000 during 2018-19. But, the number of subscribers increased from around 8,75,00,000 to 11,25,00,000 in the same duration. So, logically, the income of BSNL should have increased. But, the predatory pricing of the Reliance Jio has pushed BSNL into a crisis. The predatory pricing is offered by breaking all the rules, which is not new to a corporate company like Reliance,” Palanichamy added.

Monopoly on the Cards

The role of Reliance is easily palpable as their pricing have pushed many other telecom service providers deep into debt. Even though the merger and revival of certain companies have taken place, the secret blessings of the government and the lenient policies help Jio in taking advantage in the market. The absence of level-playing field may, in the near future, lead to the closure of other service providers, leaving Jio the sole player in the market. The monopoly in such a sector would lead to high pricing and leakage of personal information.

Government for the Corporates

The unwillingness of the government in protecting a state-owned telecommunications company as huge as BSNL is clearly visible. The trade unions allege that the Narendra Modi-led government is more inclined towards framing and modifying the policies to favour the corporates and not the common people. The government is planning to sell off even the profit-aking entities, which helps the accusation of the unions.

The BSNLEU and BSNLCCWF have carried out many demonstrations over the past few months for their demands, but the Modi government continues to turn a blind eye. However, the workers are determined to take forward the struggle for their living.

BSNL Employees Union Nagercoil