FULL SUPPORT TO THE CONTRACT WORKERS STRIKE OF BSNL

SUPPORT THE STRIKE OF CONTRACT WORKERS ! FULL SUPPORT TO CONTRACT WORKERS OF BSNL !

On the 27th of November, the contract workers union of BSNL are taking a most important and necessary step. On this day nearly one lakh contract workers employed in BSNL are going on strike across India. It is a united strike action by all workers around eleven key demands crucial for the contract workers.

1) Regularisation of left out casual and contract workers.
2) Casual labor wage to be the same as the lowest wage of BSNL instead of DOT.
3) Minimum Wage as per Government Orders to be implemented for the contract workers, including higher wages for semi-skilled, skilled and highly skilled as per A, B, and C cities.
4) Wages must be paid through cheque/account in time. Even if contractor changes, the same workers should continue.
5) Implementation of Social Security measures like EPF, ESI, and Gratuity, Bonus.
6) HRA quarters to be allotted to contract workers.
7) EPF account to be opened by Principal Employer instead of contractor.
8) Issue ID cards by BSNL management.
9) Equal pay for Equal work for contract workers.
10) Vacate Victimisation – Reinstate all retrenched workers.
11) Recognize BSNL Casual Contract Workers Federation.

Nature of contract work and nature of exploitation.

The contract workers while employed by BSNL, are paid by the contractors. The contractor effectively acts like a seller of labor force, and the company its buyer. Because of this, the company management always tries to pass the buck on to the contractors, and the contractors themselves show now responsibility towards their workers. The Abolition of Contract labor act stipulates certain facilities and duties that the contractor must provide for the workers, chief among these are ensuring due payment of ESI, Provident Fund and payment of minimum wage. More often than not, they don’t honor any of these commitments. On the contrary, we have seen cases, where workers haven’t even gotten their pay for periods of 4-5 months and when this payment is given, it is done in a most irregular manner. This is despite a company directive, that the workers must be paid via cheque or through deposit in their account.

Duality of responsibility b/w company and contractors. Company management blaming contractors, contractors blaming company management.

When these irregularities are reported to the company, the company feigns responsibility by saying it is not their duty. This is far from the truth ! Being the company which employs the workers, BSNL is the main employer for the contract workers and it is their responsibility to ensure that the workers get adequate pay and decent working conditions. Likewise, the contractors pretend that all matters pertaining to labor rights is out of their hands, even when the law stipulates that they must observe due payment of wages and give facilities for workers to help in their work. Neither the contractor nor the management has any regard for the contract worker and his rights. We cannot and must not let the contractor go scott free with their wrong doings, but nor must we lose sight of the bigger picture in which the management becomes the main enemy.

Who is the main enemy ?

While the contractor may present himself as the immediate enemy, the truth is that he is only a small part of a much bigger system in which the main enemy are those that decide the company policy. We must fight at three levels. The first level faces the immediate enemy, that is the contractor. Every time, that the contractor fails his duties to the workers, or commits any act which is illegal (like non-payment of wages) the union and the organization must take it up with the management and demand the same of the management and report the contractor for his illegal act. On the second level we fight against the company’s local management, against whom we can demand immediate measures dealing with local conditions. At the third level, we fight against the very top management and in turn, the capitalist government itself, and demand changes in policy for the betterment of the condition of workers and changes in law to ensure decent working conditions and ultimately, for the abolition of the contract labor system.

This third enemy, is our main enemy and it is not just our enemy but of the whole working class of India. Even while fighting at the local and state levels, we are ultimately building up to the fight at the national level. In this, we must build unity amongst ourselves and between ourselves and the workers of India.

The need for unity and organization. Unity between all contract workers and unity between contract and permanent workers.

However, none of this can be achieved without the strength of a strong, militant and united organization of the workers. This step has been taken by the formation of the BSNLCCWF, but we cannot simply take it for granted. The organization must be strengthened by the constant vigilance and active participation of the workers in it. The organization in turn must function as an organization of the workers, taking the rank and file into trust in every decision it makes. The hallmark of a militant workers organization, is its steadfast commitment to the interests of the workers and fearlessness in defending and furthering it.

While we are building our own organization in BSNL, we must not be ignorant of the larger picture. The curse of contractorization affects not just us, but the whole working class of the country. By uniting our struggle with the struggle of all contract workers, and even non-contract workers, we will not only be strengthening our own struggle, but also furthering that of the entire working class. Remember, the main enemy is the capitalist class and its government.

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Statement on BSNL contract worker’s dharna on 26th

ALL OUT SUPPORT TO THE CONTRACT WORKER’S STRUGGLE !

Contract workers in BSNL are said to number around at least 1 lakh. This huge force of workers are among the most exploited segment of the company’s workforce. These workers, some of whom have worked for over ten years, remain deliberately exempted from benefits which are guaranteed by labor laws. After years of wait, all contract workers have united in their struggle and today are out on protest all over the nation under the banner of the BSNL Contract and Casual Worker’s Federation. The New Wave Bolshevik Leninist group extends its full support to the union and the contract workers who have come out on struggle today. We are with you all the way !

Nature of contract work and nature of exploitation.

The contract workers while employed by BSNL, are paid by the contractors. The contractor effectively acts like a seller of labor force, and the company its buyer. Because of this, the company management always tries to pass the buck on to the contractors, and the contractors themselves show now responsibility towards their workers. The Abolition of Contract labor act stipulates certain facilities and duties that the contractor must provide for the workers, chief among these are ensuring due payment of ESI, Provident Fund and payment of minimum wage. More often than not, they don’t honor any of these commitments. On the contrary, we have seen cases, where workers haven’t even gotten their pay for periods of 4-5 months and when this payment is given, it is done in a most irregular manner. This is despite a company directive, that the workers must be paid via cheque or through deposit in their account.

Company management blaming contractors, contractors blaming company management.

When these irregularities are reported to the company, the company feigns responsibility by saying it is not their duty. This is far from the truth ! Being the company which employs the workers, BSNL is the main employer for the contract workers and it is their responsibility to ensure that the workers get adequate pay and decent working conditions. Likewise, the contractors pretend that all matters pertaining to labor rights is out of their hands, even when the law stipulates that they must observe due payment of wages and give facilities for workers to help in their work. Neither the contractor nor the management has any regard for the contract worker and his rights. We cannot and must not let the contractor go scott free with their wrong doings, but nor must we lose sight of the bigger picture in which the management becomes the main enemy.

Who is the main enemy ?

While the contractor may present himself as the immediate enemy, the truth is that he is only a small part of a much bigger system in which the main enemy are those that decide the company policy. We must fight at three levels. The first level faces the immediate enemy, that is the contractor. Every time, that the contractor fails his duties to the workers, or commits any act which is illegal (like non-payment of wages) the union and the organization must take it up with the management and demand the same of the management and report the contractor for his illegal act. On the second level we fight against the company’s local management, against whom we can demand immediate measures dealing with local conditions. At the third level, we fight against the very top management and in turn, the capitalist government itself, and demand changes in policy for the betterment of the condition of workers and changes in law to ensure decent working conditions and ultimately, for the abolition of the contract labor system.

This third enemy, is our main enemy and it is not just our enemy but of the whole working class of India. Even while fighting at the local and state levels, we are ultimately building up to the fight at the national level. In this, we must build unity amongst ourselves and between ourselves and the workers of India.

For unity between all contract workers and unity between contract and permanent workers.

However, none of this can be achieved without the strength of a strong, militant and united organization of the workers. This step has been taken by the formation of the BSNLCCWF, but we cannot simply take it for granted. The organization must be strengthened by the constant vigilance and active participation of the workers in it. The organization in turn must function as an organization of the workers, taking the rank and file into trust in every decision it makes. The hallmark of a militant workers organization, is its steadfast commitment to the interests of the workers and fearlessness in defending and furthering it.

While we are building our own organization in BSNL, we must not be ignorant of the larger picture. The curse of contractorization affects not just us, but the whole working class of the country. By uniting our struggle with the struggle of all contract workers, and even non-contract workers, we will not only be strengthening our own struggle, but also furthering that of the entire working class. Remember, the main enemy is the capitalist class and its government.

The long term goal and short term goal.

Our struggle must be shaped in two directions. On the one hand, we must keep a long term goal, whilst on the other keep a gist of short term goals which can give contract workers immediate relief. The long term goal must be the regularization of all contract and casual workers employed by the company and their alleviation to the status of a permanent worker with the wage rate and attached benefits of a permanent worker, for all those who do work of a permanent nature. For those whose work is of a temporary nature, to make improvements in their condition of work and wage rate bringing them at par with permanent workers employed in similar areas of work. Our short term aims must include the most urgent and immediate questions of increases of pay and regularization of payment as well as measures which can guarantee us these.

Lastly, we must remember that it is only through rigorous and organized struggle that we can win in our fight. There are encouraging examples right within BSNL of victories which the contract workers have won through their struggle. In Kerala and Karnataka where they have won wage increases, and have successfully fought back discrimination against themselves. These are examples which show the way forward for all of us.

Abolish contractorization ! Stable jobs and good conditions for all !

Stop the discrimination ! Equal pay for equal work !

Report on field visit to BSNL contract workers

On the 22nd of January, comrade Adhiraj and Pushkar of the New Wave made a visit to a team of contract workers who attended our Open Forum on the 7th of January.

They were engaged in work of line repair for BSNL underground cables. The workers have told us that they have been at this work since morning at 9 and had spent 7 hours at work by the time we arrived. During our stay there we did not see any supervisor nor technician on the spot to guide the workers in this work, although the line man ought to be present.

When we asked about the nature of the work and the support from the company or contractor, one worker was quick to point out that “There is no support from the company or contractor, if we injure ourselves there is no accident insurance either. Despite the fact that the work we do is of a hazardous nature”. They also pointed out to us an earlier incident of a colleague being injured while on duty.

Later on we discussed about the core demands which the workers would look forward to. They were all unanimous in stating that their main concern is getting proper payment of wages. One worker among them told us “The contractor disburses the payments, and he always pays us less than the minimum wage. We don’t get ESI *( Employee’s State Insurance) payment or Provident Fund payment, but a much smaller amount” . Incidentally it was in most cases less than the stipulated minimum wage for the state of Maharashtra and far below the minimum wage guaranteed by the latest order by BSNL itself.

When asked “are you satisfied with the minimum wage of around Rs. 10,000?” the workers unanimously stated that the wage must be at least Rs. 12-15,000 especially so given the rising cost of rent and transport. Most of the workers we interviewed live in the outskirts of Pune and have to travel distances of 50 or more kilometres to arrive at the office, from where they are assigned different areas of the city to work in. The pressure for transportation drains out most of the monthly income from the workers, which we found were in most cases around Rs. 5000 . A pitiable amount considering the house rent and cost of transport. Even here, though workers have complained to us about arrears in payment and delays in payment. We were told by one worker, that two months’ payment of wages had not yet been given to him.

We asked him later on about how long he has been working in BSNL and what were his motivations in joining the company. He explained to us : “I have been working in BSNL for around 12 years at least. Right after completing graduation I joined the company. We were told that BSNL was a growing and reputed government company. All of us who joined expected the stability of a government job. I hoped that after two or three years my employment would be regularized, but nothing of the sort happened. In the last 12 years I have seen no change it has been as bad as it is now. I have two parents, a wife and a child in my family, and so far, we’re surviving only on my father’s pension. I haven’t been able to contribute a single rupee to the family because my wages are too little and aren’t paid in time.”

All workers we discussed with were more than willing to come out in struggle for their basic demands, however, they did not find the necessary support. The main trade unions in BSNL had not raised the issue of contract workers on their agenda till the New Wave Bolshevik Leninist initiated its Open Forums. The main fear in the minds of the workers however, was the constant threat of retrenchment which the contractor keeps repeating. Absence is punished with pay cuts and the workers are forced to attend on weekends including Sundays and other statutory holidays. Even Independence Day and Republic Day are not spared and their names are written on the muster rolls even when they do not attend. That day’s pay is cut from their monthly salary.

Comrade Adhiraj Bose later on answered the doubts regarding the legal structure in place for contract work. In particular, the duties of the contractor and the management in the event that the contractor fails to do his duty. The position of the contract worker is legally synonymous with a ‘workman’ in the Industrial Disputes Act which entitles him to all benefits which any permanent worker enjoys including ESI payment and Provident Fund. Not only that, but makes it mandatory on part of the contractor to provide for this. A discrepancy in payments by the contractor would invoke punitive sections in the Abolition and Regulation of Contract Workers Act, and would also put burden on the company management to make good any arrear in payment to the worker. Neither company nor contractor is performing their legally binding duty in this case. Equally significant to note, that when a worker is employed in a job of a continuing nature, that entitles him for regularization. Most of the workers therefore, would be entitled to regularization.

At the end of the meeting the workers were keen to know about the next step in the Open Forums initiative. We have resolved to continue the organization of the Open Forum and use it as a fighting force for the rights of contract workers. The next step we decided is to investigate into grievances of contract workers within Pune district and investigate into contractors who have indulged in illegal abuses.

BSNL Strike December 2010

Statement of support for BSNL workers strike:

From the 1st of December this year, the workers of BSNL , India’s largest telecommunications provider, and one of the largest public sector companies in India, are on strike. The strike is against the divestment of state assets and the massive attacks on the working conditions and welfare of the workers in BSNL. The Rights of workers and living conditions achieved in India result from years of struggle against the capitalist system. The government attacks target all the victories won by the class in constant militant struggle. The Indian government’s economic, social and political offensive against millions of workers is ruthless and massive, but the struggle of the BSNL workers will be a watershed. We give our unconditional support to the strike called by the BSNL workers and employees under the banner of the JAC.

The demands raised in struggle are the following :

The abolition of the Pitroda Commission Recommendations :

The Pitroda commission is recommending huge lay offs and retrenchments under the guise of a retirement scheme for employees as well as a massive sell-off. These plans are part of a coordinated long term drive to break the militancy of the working class in BSNL and to hand over one of the leading state sector companies to India’s conglomerate owning families. The consequences of this would be devastating . Thus far, such a move has been pioneered by the congress government at the centre who are by a million strings attached to precisely these families.

Stop discriminating against BSNL!  :

Time and again the ruling government in power and particularly the Congress government has treated the BSNL in a discriminating manner. It has been held back from access to some of the best technologies in the market as well as having to pass through unwarranted bureaucratic hurdles to keep up competing with other private firms currently dominating the telecom market. Such discrimination has no justification and must be immediately halted.

A review of existing employment policies :

The present existing wage schemes for workers do not include pension benefits which have been halted since 2007. Also a review is needed on the pay scale and an overall increase of wages must be put into effect. Furthermore, the complications arising out of the absorbsions of employees of the ITS need urgent resolving. We demand that proper steps be taken to resolve this most urgent issue.

Whilst the aforementioned demands broadly describe the approach of the struggle as it stands we believe the following demands should be raised to take the struggle for the BSNL forward

1) Accountability and direct workers participation in all decision making process of the company :

State control over industry is meaningless if it is subjected to the whims of pro-capitalist bureaucrats who are more than willing to sell off public wealth at throw away prices. To ensure that the gains arising out of state ownership benefit the people, the workers who are the life and blood of the corporation must have a decisive say in running the company.

2) Guaranteed employment and good wages for all employees! :

We demand that adequate employment guarantee be granted to all employees working in BSNL which include a pension scheme for all new entrants in work. As well as increases in wage pay for both permanent and contractualized workforce. We also demand that contractualized workers be treated at par with permanent workers in BSNL without any loss of pay to permanent work force.

3) Make BSNL a model company for the country :

BSNL is one of the foremost public sector companies in India. To serve the interests of all people in the nation this essential industry must be given all necessary technical, political and legal assistance to become a model of efficient and democratized planning and development. It must be seen as an inspirational model of class infrastructural development for the prosperity of all citizens.

We call for national level solidarity of all state sector employees to come forth in defense of their rights and for the defense of public assets and state corporations in the greater welfare of the people.

The demands needed to save BSNL aren’t limited only to BSNL or to any single corporation for that matter. They are in essence part of a much broader struggle. To make the struggle for BSNL a true success we must mobilize behind these demands to a higher level of militant struggle culminating ultimately in a nationwide general strike in solidarity with all BSNL workers.

For a United Struggle !

United we rise divided we fall. For the struggle in the BSNL to succeed we need to make sure that the struggle remains a solidly unified one. For this we propose a network of nationally coordinated network of strike committees.