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. 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 programme s 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 t o 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 o f 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. memorandum detailing the transfer, harassment
tc. 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.
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.