Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) Employees Union (EU) said that the “employees will be forced to resort to more serious forms of struggles” if the management does not act on its demands. The development is on the heels of the BSNL employees staging demonstrations across India on Friday urging the government to act on its demands ranging from salary payments to 4G roll out. The BSNLEU on Saturday said that the circle and district unions of BSNL held the demonstrations “in a very successful” manner despite the COVID-19 restrictions in most parts of India. The BSNLEU had earlier said that the employees participating in the demonstrations should take necessary precautions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The employees were asked to follow social distancing and masks were said to be mandatory for those taking part in the demonstrations. Further, the BSNLEU said that only 10 employees in “big cities” should take part in the programme while five employees were permitted in other cities.
BSNL Employees Urge Government to Act on its Promises
The BSNLEU on Thursday said in a release that the government of India has not implemented several elements of the BSNL revival package announced in October, 2019. The BSNL revival package is said to be worth Rs 69,000 and includes allotment of 4G spectrum, asset monetization and issue of sovereign guarantee to BSNL for raising funds from market.
However, a Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS) also part of the BSNL revival package was implemented by the BSNL and the government of India. The BSNLEU highlighted that over 79,000 employees took the VRS offered by the government.
“Even after the lapse of 8 months, except the implementation of VRS, no other assurance contained in the Revival Package has been implemented,” P.Abhimanyu, general secretary of BSNLEU said in the release.
Despite the VRS roll out, BSNLEU said that the salary payments of 70,000 employees part of BSNL have not been paid for the month of May. It was said that the BSNL had earned over 1400 crores in May and that the expenditure was around 350 crores per month. Further, BSNL is said to have not paid the wages of contract workers for over 12 months which has led to the death of 12 contract workers by suicide.
“The BSNL Management has blatantly violated the instructions issued by the Labour and Finance Ministries regarding payment of wages of the contract workers during the lock-down period,” P.Abhimanyu said.
The society dues and LIC premium deducted from the salary of the BSNL employees is said to have not been paid to the relevant organizations by the operator for the past year. The BSNLEU also said that various competitive examinations for the promotion of non-executive employees have not been held for many years. Several BSNL employees in the past week have taken it to social media urging the BSNL management to hold examinations and promote the staff.
“BSNLEU is taking up many genuine grievances of the employees with the Management,” P.Abhimanyu said. “However, none of the issues is being settled by the Management. It is very disturbing to note that the BSNL Management is not even willing to settle such of those issues of the employees, which do not have any financial implication.”
BSNL Employees Demand Clearance to 4G Tender
The BSNLEU also said that the delay in the launch of BSNL 4G services is a “matter of serious concern.”
The state run operator issued a tender in early 2020 for upgrading its 2G and 3G sites to 4G across India excluding the Mumbai and Delhi circles. It was reported in early May that BSNL had awarded a contract to Nokia and ZTE for the migration of close to 50,000 sites. The development, however, is said to have hit a roadblock in the form of the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) who reportedly did not give a go-ahead.
BSNL issued a reworked tender in late March that requires the vendors to deal with the planning, engineering, supply, installation, testing, commissioning and annual maintenance of 4G mobile network across India. The reworked tender also included Mumbai and Delhi circles of MTNL with BSNL estimating that the winner of the tender would deal with 50,000 sites of BSNL and 7,000 sites of MTNL.
Following multiple delays, the reworked tender was scheduled to be opened in late June. However, the escalated confrontation between the Chinese soldiers and Indian soldiers in mid June had resulted in DoT placing restrictions on BSNL from sourcing telecom equipment from Chinese vendors. Additionally, Niti Aayog, the Indian government’s policy think tank is said to have suggested BSNL to go for indigenously designed, developed and manufactured products for its 4G network. The directions from Niti Aayog would not only bar Chinese vendors but also other global players including Nokia and Ericsson. The tender is currently scheduled to be opened on August 18.
Crucially, the complaint provided by Telecom Equipments and Services Promotion Council (TEPC) is also said to be one of the key reasons for the delay in opening of the tender. The BSNLEU on Thursday highlighted that the objection raised by TEPC is that the operator violates the “Make in India” policy.
“When all the private operators are procuring world class 4G equipments from international vendors, why BSNL alone should be compelled to procure equipments from domestic vendors,” P.Abhimanyu said. “In BSNLEU’s view, the TEPC is nothing but a tool, being used by vested interests, to stall BSNL from procuring 4G equipments.”
Meanwhile, Jamyang Tsering Namgyal, MP of Ladakh said in a tweet on Friday that he had requested Pravin Kumar Purwar, CMD of BSNL to upgrade BSNL towers in the region to 4G. Namgyal said that BSNL should upgrade towers “on priority considering the harsh geoclimatic conditions and strategic importance of the region.”
The BSNLEU on Saturday said that the steps were being taken to hold an online meeting of the All Unions and Associations of Bsnl (AUAB). The online meeting of the AUAB will be held to issue a call “for appropriate action, to remove the road-blocks that have been created in the rolling out of BSNL’s 4G network.”