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Starting Feb 18, BSNL will ‘strike’ back again for 4G allocation, wage revision

PW Bureau

According to official sources, the Centre has been dragging its feet on the 4G spectrum allocation because of Niti Aayog that sees no point in awarding it to a PSU that has been making losses

New Delhi: A month after the employees’ union of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) staged a strike to demand the allocation of 4G spectrum to the state-owned telecom operator, they are now set to intensify their agitation and launch a second round of strikes, starting from February 18 to February 20. A notice issued by the All Union and Associations of BSNL (AUAB), accessed by PSU Watch, stated that the union was constrained to call a strike because the Minister of State for Communications, Manoj Sinha, had failed to deliver on the assurances that were given during the last meeting on December 3 last year.

Last year, the AUAB had called an indefinite strike in December to demand the allocation of 4G spectrum to BSNL and had slammed the Centre for favouring Jio over other telecom operators. It had contended that BSNL was losing out to the private players in the highly competitive telecom market because it could not offer 4G services. They had also demanded implementation of the government rule in respect of payment of pension contribution by BSNL, wage revision of the employees and pension revision of the retirees, from January 1, 2017.

What are the current demands?

The strike that will commence later this month will carry forward most of the demands listed down by the unions during the previous strike — with 4G allocation and wage and pension revision being the top three. The notice also asks the government to transfer the land assets, as per the decision that was taken by the Cabinet on the eve of the formation of BSNL, to the state-owned enterprise and to approve BSNL’s land management policy without any delay.

It urges the government to ensure the financial viability of BSNL, issue letter of comfort to banks for loans sought by the public sector undertaking (PSU) and scrap the outsourcing and maintenance of BSNL’s towers.

The backdrop

The issue of 4G spectrum allocation has been a long-drawn demand by the state-owned telecom operator that has not yet seen the light of the day. According to government officials, the Centre has been dragging its feet on the 4G spectrum allocation because of Niti Aayog that sees no point in awarding it to a PSU that has been making losses. BSNL employees, on the other hand, contend that the absence of 4G services in their basket puts the PSU in a position of grave disadvantage in comparison to the private players. The cost of availing a 4G spectrum has also been a sore spot between the Centre and BSNL, with the latter asking the government to foot 50 percent of the total fee — Rs 10,000 crores — while the other half is taken care of by the state-run enterprise.