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!
 – A lakh or lac is a unit in the South Asian numbering system equal to one hundred thousand (100,000).