AK Kaushik has been a life-long employee at the Department of Telecom (DoT), first serving in the department till 1999 and then in MTNL, from 1999 till his retirement in 2013.
Now the General Secretary of the Telecom Executive Association of MTNL(Delhi-Mumbai), he says that the situation of the PSU’s employees hasn’t been as bad as it now, ever since it was founded in 1986.
“It has happened for the first time that our employees are not getting their salaries on time. The employees are a demoralised lot. There is so much uncertainty if our employees will get their next month’s salary on time,” tells Kaushik, on the day when the government finally paid off salaries of MTNL’s 23,000-odd employees in Delhi and Mumbai.
However, Kaushik states that the disbursal of Rs 158 crore in pending GPF payments that the government released towards payment of salaries of MTNL employees will only take care of salaries for this month. “The expenditure in salaries comes to about Rs 200 crore for Delhi and Mumbai. There is a looming uncertainty if our employees will get any pay next month,” he complains.
Kaushik’s sentiment is shared by serving MTNL employees, who flank him as the veteran telecom official speaks to National Herald at the iconic Kidwai Bhawan, a building named after India’s first communications’ minister Rafi Ahmed Kidwai.
Not wanting to be identified for fear of backlash for making a political statement, one of the officials present says, “The Prime Minister, on advice of NITI Aayog, wants to kill off both MTNL and BSNL. Delaying the salaries is part of a well-designed strategy to make the employees leave,” he says.
Another official present in the room notes that MTNL had earned profits to the tune of Rs 45,000 between 1986 and 2009. “Now they say that we are a loss-making PSU. But, how do you expect us to make profits when private telecom operators, with higher debts than MTNL, are being promoted by the government at MTNL’s and BSNL’s expense,” he highlights, adding that MTNL owed the government approx Rs 20,000 crore.
“Airtel’s liabilities are over Rs 70,000 crore. Vodafone has liabilities to the tune of Rs 1,20,000 crore. Jio has a huge debt as well. Then, why single out MTNL and BSNL,” the official notes. The employees prefer remaining anonymous as departmental action had been initiated against MTNL’s employees for speaking out against ruling parties in the past.
In fact, AK Kaushik had faced a transfer to a border town in Ferozepur, Punjab, during his service days after he protested a government policy. Since his retirement, he has been taking up issues of MTNL employees vocally. “The previous governments would at least listen to us when we protested their policies. Not this government,” he says.
The last time the elections for union representation were held in MTNL Delhi was in 2012. In Mumbai, the last internal polls took place in 2009. In Delhi, Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh-backed labour union Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh won the key posts, while the elections were clinched by Shiv Sena-backed MTNL Kamgar Sangh in Mumbai. The outfit’s president is Arvind Sawant, Shiv Sena MP from South Mumbai.
“Where are they now. Has there been a single statement from the Mazdoor Sangh on the current crisis that our employees are facing? Why are they silent? Do they represent the government and the management, or the employees who voted for them,” laments Kaushik.
Further, while the union elections are supposed to take place every two years, the refusal of MTNL’s management to hold polls in both the cities has left the employees seething. In Mumbai, elections haven’t been held despite an order from the High Court, urging the management to conduct internal polls.
In fact, disenchantment with the RSS and Shiv Sena-allied unions has been growing among MTNL’s employees over the last few years, because of their noticeable silence in failing to speak up for the struggling employees.
Dozens of letters have been written to the management by MTNL’s employees in both Delhi and Mumbai, asking them to stop deducting the monthly subscription of Rs 50 that the employees pay to the Mazdoor Sangh and the Kamgar Sangh. National Herald has seen two such letters.
Informs Kaushik, “In Delhi, the Mazdoor Sangh easily pockets Rs 6 lakh every month due to these subscriptions.”
He adds that there have been instances during the tenure of current government when employees, many of them Group C and Group D workers, have been pulled up by the management for refusing to pay their monthly subscriptions.
“But the employees are becoming more vocal now. They don’t see a future in getting the BJP re-elected,” he says.
“We are not voting for them this time around. They want to take away our jobs. We will see to it that MTNL’s employees don’t vote for the BJP,” says Kaushik. Others present in the room agree with him.