Time moves fast. It is three years since BSNL Employees Union was formed in the massive Joint Conference held at Visakhapatnam (A.P) on 21-22nd March 2001. The following existing six All India telecom unions merged to form the new union: All India Telecom Employees Union Class –III (Namboodiri), All India Telegraph Traffic Employees Union Class-III, All India Telecom Administrative Offices Employees Union, All India Telecom Civil Wing Employees Union Group C & D, Indian Telecom Employees Union, Line Staff &Group D and All India P&T Industrial Workers Union. Many circle unions of the following two All India Unions also merged: All India Telecom Employees Union, Line Staff & Group D and All India Telegraph Traffic Employees Union, Group D.
In the Telecom Department, there were about 33 unions, recognised as well as not recognised, including that of officers. Three Federations viz. NFTE, FNTO and BTEF stood recognised. 5 All India Unions were affiliated to NFTE. There was only a single Federation till 1969 in the P&T Department called “National Federation of P&T Employees” (NFPTE) which was formed as part of the realignment scheme agreed to by Department and the then existing unions. FNPTO was formed in 1969 and BTEF in 1977. They were affiliated to INTUC and BMS respectively, while NFPTE was not affiliated to any Central Trade Union. After bifurcation of P&T Department in to Posts & Telecommunications, NFPTE also was bifurcated into NFPE and NFTE in the Calcutta Federal Council in 1986. NFTE was affiliated by the following five unions: All India Telecom Employees Union Class-III, All India Telecom Employees Union, Line Staff & Class-IV, All India Telegraph Traffic Employees Union Class-III, All India Telegraph Traffic Employees Union Class-IV and All India Telecom Administrative Office Employees Union Class-III & IV. There was strong protest against the pro-management policy of the NFTE leadership which resulted in contest in 1991 Bhopal AIC of E-III Union, where its General Secretary O.P. Gupta, who was also the Secretary General, NFTE was defeated in election. V.A.N. Namboodiri and Moni Bose were elected President and General Secretary respectively. In T-III, P.S.Ramankutty was elected as General Secretary in 1987. Pabitra Ranjan Chakraborthy was elected as General Secretary of Administrative Union in 1993 at Calcutta. These three unions co-ordinated functioning and strongly opposed the collaborationist approach of NFTE leadership. O.P. Gupta, SG, NFTE agreeing to ban on recruitment, liquidation of 1,50,000 posts in the name of cadre restructuring etc. was actually helping the government to implement its anti-worker policies. The new alignment of forces of E-III, T-III and Administrative union, heralded a new wave of enthusiasm amongst workers. Three more unions viz. All India P&T Industrial workers union, with veteran leader Sisir Bhattacharjee as General Secretary, ITEU Line Staff & Class-IV with E. Gopal as General Secretary and All India P&T Civil Wing Employees Union with S. Killivalavan as General Secretary, joined the coordination. Circle Unions of Kerala, West Bengal, Assam & North East of E-IV & T-IV also joined. Continued agitational programmes were organised on the demands of telecom workers as also against corporatisation / privatisation of Telecom. The Sanchar Bhawan March organised in 1997 at New Delhi was participated by more than 13,000 workers, giving a new image to the organisation.The co-ordination strengthened further. A National Action Committee (NAC) against Corporatisation / Privatisation was formed with Sisir Bhattacharjee as Chairman and V.A.N. Namboodiri as Convenor. The All India strikes against Corporatisation of Telecom on 28th June and 24th & 25th August 2000 were big success with participation of workers even belonging to other unions. The struggle continued, but the government was hell bent upon corporatisation.
Department of Telecom Services (DTS) and Department of Telecom Operations (DTO) were corporatised on 1st October 2000 with the name Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL). The change over could be made six months earlier than the proposed date of 1-4-2001, due to the whole hearted support given by NFTE and other Federations. The change from government Department to corporation had its own problems for the unions. While in the Department, Cadre unions were recognised; in corporation, industry wise union alone is allowed. It became necessary to form an industry wise union including all cadres of employees. The issue was thoroughly discussed by the National Action Committee and it was decided to form a new industrial union. A Telecom convention as well as a Joint Central Working Committee of All India Unions were decided to be held at Visakhapatnam.
The Joint Conference held on 21st –22nd March, under a presidium consisting of the Presidents of all the unions being merged, unanimously adopted the Resolution forming BSNL Employees Union and the Constitution of the union with thunderous applause. Founder office-bearers with J.N. Mishra as President and V.A.N. Namboodiri as General Secretary were elected. BSNLEU was the first union to be registered in BSNL with Registration. No. 4896 dated 15th June 2001, within 3 months of its formation, a record in itself.
The three years since its inception have been full of continuous struggles and activities for BSNLEU and its members.
The initiative and pivotal role of BSNLEU and its General Secretary, V.A.N. Namboodiri have been appreciated by all. Memorandum which the Joint Committee presented as the basic document for discussion, was prepared by Namboodiri, after a thorough study of the wage agreements in many PSUs. At each and every stage when NFTE leadership was conniving and conspiring with management for lesser benefit, the intervention by Namboodiri, supported by other unions saved the situation and resulted in a better wage lift for the employees coming to more than Rs. 1500 to Rs. 3000. O.P. Gupta, GS, NFTE BSNL, could not succeed in his sinister game. The daily circulars issued by BSNLEU enabled the field units to know the latest developments and give feed back to CHQ for a better wage agreement. It was a credit to BSNLEU that its General Secretary was the first person from the union side to sign the agreement.
BSNLEU once again took the lead in serving a notice on 05-08-2002 for Indefinite Strike w.e.f. 19-08-2002, as per Aurangabad CEC decision, against the undue and unwarranted delay in issue of wage orders. It had immediate effect. Within a few days, orders were issued.
Even though, formed only one year back, office bearers of BSNLEU campaigned throughout the country forming Circle / District / Branch unions and also preparing for the membership verification. Namboodiri, GS, himself attended about 200 meetings. Thirty circle unions and hundreds of District Unions were formed in record time. While it was only a change of name for the 3 Federations in to BSNL unions, we have to form a new union in almost all respects and form its Circles, Districts and Branches. Our comrades made it to the extent possible within a short time.
Making the management agree for secret ballot for membership verification was another success. But because of Code of Discipline and opposition from NFTE, we could not make the management and Chief Labour Commissioner to agree for proportionate representation. While BSNLEU made pre-poll alliance with TEPU, BSLWRU and AITSC/STEWA, the alliance with NUBSNLW-FNTO could not materialise due to certain unavoidable difficulties.
BSNLEU with its alliance got about 90,000 votes with majority of more than 50% votes in 9 circles. It got the first position in three more circles. It got 95% in NE-II, 76% in NE-I and 72% in Assam. BSNLEU showed its presence in all the 36 circles, while NFTE – BSNL got 0,2,3,11 etc. in certain circles. The management was shocked that BSNLEU within a short time could get the support of about 30% of the total staff.
But BSNLEU was not granted recognition. Only NFTE BSNL, which got first position with about 35%, was recognised. Our unions in 9 circles where we got more than 50% were given limited trade union facilities. We made pressure on the management for recognition. Our Andhra comrades went to A.P. High Court, through which we could get right of representation.
NFTE BSNL, as soon as it got recognition, started running amuck by pressurising local managements to victimise, harass and transfer workers and office-bearers of other unions, especially, BSNLEU. Management at local levels succumbed and transferred our office-bearers and workers in many places. NFTE BSNL dreamed that the non-recognised unions can be finished this way. BSNLEU and its workers took up this challenge and fought against victimisation and transfers wherever it took place. As per the call of the Delhi CEC Meeting, 48 hours Hunger Strikes by Circle Union Office Bearers were organised on 13-14 September 2003, participated by hundreds of workers in each Circle Head Quarters. A massive Dharna was conducted in New Delhi participated by more than 800. A memorandum detailing the transfer, harassment etc. was submitted to the CMD, BSNL. As a result of the agitation, BSNL management was compelled to issue clear instructions that there should be no harassment, victimisation and pick and choose transfers of members and leaders of non-recognised unions. Most of the cases are settled. The remaining cases are being perused. Through continued struggles, we are able to defend our workers.
When there was delay in grant of Bonus for 2002-03, the matter was immediately taken by BSNLEU with the management. The management expressed its inability to pay Bonus as last year, since only Rs. 32 crore was available for disbursement. On our initiative, all the unions met and decided to issue notice for strike. In the conciliation meeting, we put strong arguments, which the management could not rebut. When the management offered 50% bonus of last year paid, NFTE BSNL happily accepted. It was only due to the strong stand taken by BSNLEU that the adhoc bonus could be increased to 75%. All the non-recognised unions have now demanded for the balance 25% of Bonus.
BSNLEU along with other non-recognised unions put strong pressure during wage negotiations for Pension on IDA from consolidated fund. It was agreed, despite opposition from NFTE. Now NFTE is trying to subvert it. We have opposed. In the Strike Notice of BSNLEU on 24th February 2004, the demand to continue pension on IDA scale is included. We will defend pension on IDA.
The Charter of Demands finalised by Delhi CEC meeting and submitted to CMD, BSNL on 30th October 2003, included the important issues of BSNL workers. CHQ is perusing all these cases vigorously, despite the fact that it is not recognised by the management. Hundreds of individual cases were taken and settled.
BSNLEU CHQ publishes three monthly journals viz Telecrusader, BSNL SWAR (Hindi) and Telemessage which are circulated widely among BSNL workers, irrespective of union affiliation. Inspite of much financial difficulties, the journals are being published regularly. In addition, regular circulars are being issued to enable the workers to get the latest information.
The most important issue before the union is to save the workers from the disinvestment / privatisation of BSNL. The privatisation policy of government is destroying the future and job security of lakhs and lakhs of workers. It is against the interest of the people and country itself. BSNLEU is committed to fight the anti-worker policies of government.
3. BSNL Board held 6 meetings with Joint Committee. In addition a core committee with Sr. DDG (Personnel), Sr.DDG (EFC) and DDG (SR) held several meetings with the Joint Committee. Before and after these meeting Joint Committee held its internal meeting. A sub committee of General Secretaries were also formed to work out / calculate pay scale etc. in addition to GS, Dy. GS and other office bearers also participated in the discussions.
4. The main demands initially placed by the Joint Committee were as follows: (1) MTNL Pay scales (2) Point to Point Fixation (3) payment of Govt. Pension and (4) No Disinvestment of BSNL. Management rejected the demand of MTNL scales. Instead they suggested the pay scales of ‘RITES’, a Railway converted PSU, which were very low and not accepted to the committee. It was rejected outright. Many alternative proposals were put forth both by the unions as well as the management. The Joint Committee unanimously decided to demand pay scales with a minimum scale of 4400-185-6250. Thereafter, the negotiations reached a crucial stage. In the meeting held on 7-03-02, management proposed sets of pay scales, one with 1:1 fixation formula. At this stage all other unions wanted to accept the proposal. But we told them not to be hasty and that the proposal has to be studied well. On studying the management’s proposals that out of the eleven pay scales (NE-1 to NE-11) the last five scales (NE-7 to NE-11) starting pay is not sufficient and required to be improved. This view of the BSNLEU was accepted by all other unions and the Joint Committee unanimously demanded to raise the starting pay of the NE-7, NE-8, NE-9, NE-10 and NE-11 scales.
5. Our criticism about OPG’s pro-management role was once again substantiated. He deviated from the demands unanimously adopted by JC and placed his own views, which were pro-management to say the least. Alone he went to management without informing others, for making changes which are against the interest of workers. Even before an agreement was made, OPG gave a letter to the management accepting the management proposal with thanks. When there was strong protest from all unions, he expressed regret as if nothing happened. This happened more than once. He insisted that point to point fixation cannot be achieved. He was opposing more than Rs. 3400/- for group ‘D’ (SE-I_. Even in the last he tried to change the draft agreement without consulting others. Our eternal vigilance saved the situation every time.
6. After very hard bargaining, agreement was signed on 26-04-2002 by all the unions except NTSU. The salient points of the agreement are:
(1) CDA scales replaced by IDA scales (2) Point to Point fixation accepted (3) date of effect from 1-10-2000 (4) Industrial DA (IDA) as on 1-10-2000 will be 28% as being calculated for PSUs. It will be revised after every 3 months viz. in January, April, July and October. (5) A minimum of Rs. 1500/- was assured to all officials (6) OTBP / BCR / Grade IV / ACP and other promotions will continue (60 HRA / CCA will be revised from 1-10-2000 based on the new pay (7) Perks will continue as in Govt. Service till it is revised (8) Govt. Pension on IDA scale ensured. (9) Govt. Pension on IDA scale ensured. (10) Anomalies / Aberrations will be considered and settled.
7. CHQ was in constant touch with office – bearers and Circle Secretaries and conveyed each and every development through Journals, Circulars, telephone calls, e-mails and fax. CHQ was working almost 24 hours during the crucial days. Central office-bearers meeting held at New Delhi discussed the issues threadbare and gave valuable suggestions and correct direction. CHQ also consulted and got guidance from many trade union leaders.
8. The wage agreement signed in BSNL was unique and historic. Com. V.A.N Namboodiri, GS BSNLEU, while signing the agreement as first signatory pointed out the significance of the agreement!
(1) BSNL is the biggest PSU with more than 3 lakh non-executive and this is its first wage agreement. (2) Instead of the recognised union, the Joint Committee of all unions conducted the negotiations. (3) This is a midterm settlement. Next Wage revision will be on 1-1-2007. (4) Negotiations were concluded within a short time.
9. The Pivotal role played by our, whether in preparing the notes as well as in discussion was well appreciated not only by our members but by members of other unions as well. We collected and studied many of the wage agreement in other similar PSUs and prepared an introductory note on wage negotiation as also draft charter of demands as required by Joint Committee. General Secretary, Com. Namboodiri, participated in all meetings of Joint Committee (presided twice) and meetings with management / core committee and made valuable contributions in taking correct decisions. Other office bearers, Coms. J.N. Mishra, Pabitra Chakraborthy, R.L. Moudgil, P.S. Ramankutty, P. Abhimanyu, S. Killivallavan, E.Gopal and D. Gopalakrishnan who were present at Delhi during the talks also made rich contributions. We also appreciate the efforts of other organisations.
10. The BSNL full Board approved the agreement within a few days. But DoT, whose approval was also required because of Govt. Pension, delayed a decision seeking clarifications after clarifications from BSNL. DoT was taking it’s own time. As such protest action became inevitable. However, except NUBSNLW and BSNLWRU others were not prepared. We decided to observe a Protest day on 21-06-2002. Demonstrations were held at Branch level and the protest Telegrams was sent to DoT with copy to BSNL. The workers responded magnificently and about 2000 telegrams were received. It was a well planned protest action which was a wake-up call to BSNL / DoT.
11. In the meantime OPG started propagating that the delay is due to the increase in salary on which pension had to be given by DoT. He suggested that Joint Committee should agree to reduce the pay in order to get the Govt. Pension. We strongly opposed the proposals. Other unions also did not agree. But our protest action had results. In the meeting with BSNL Management held on 26-07-02, they informed that approval from DoT has been received.
12. But at the same time, DoT wanted the perks decision to be delayed up to 2007. OPG was agreeable, but all the other unions opposed. Central Executive Committee meeting of BSNLEU held at Aurangabad from 3rd to 5th August discussed the issue seriously. It was felt that the delay on the part of BSNL was unwarranted. The CEC, therefore, unanimously resolved to call for an indefinite strike w.e.f. 19-08-2002 and the notice was sent by fax from the venue itself on 5th itself.
13. The notice for strike had immediate effect. The orders on wage agreement was issued on 07-08-2002 itself. The orders were as on the basis of the agreement. The pay scales effective w.e.f 1-10-2000.
14. Thus the 1st Wage negotiation and settlement in BSNL was successful. A good amount of arrears and good increase in salary were received by all. However, a serious anomaly / aberration crept in whereby the seniors higher grades got less than their juniors creating much heart burning. The issue is taken by Joint Committee for early settlement.
15. CHQ issued an appeal for donation @ Rs. 200/- from members which should equally be divided between Branch, District, Circle and CHQ. But it is sad to point out that except a few circles, others did not take work seriously. The donation received do not reflect either our membership or our strength all over India.