BSNL staffers complain VRS scheme is forced, resort to hunger-strike

Last Updated: Mon, Nov 25, 2019 13:15 hrs
A woman speaks on her mobile phone in front of the logo of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) painted on a wall outside its office in Kolkata

New Delhi: Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS) at state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited may not be as beneficial as preliminary reports suggested.

On Monday reports emerged of BSNL employee Unions resorting to a hunger strike in protest of the scheme.

The Unions have struck down from work (pan-India hunger strike) saying that the scheme has created a fear psychosis in their minds. They also allege that the VRS scheme was not voluntary but rather it was forced upon them by the management.

In a PTI report, the Convenor for All India Unions and Associations of Bharat Sanchar Nigam limited, P Abhimanyu is quoted as saying,

"We are not opposing VRS. Those who want and think it is beneficial for them should opt for it. It is not beneficial for lower-level employees and they are being threatened to take VRS, else retirement age will be reduced to 58. It is a forced retirement scheme, therefore we are going on a hunger strike on Monday..."

Abhimanyu further adds, "In case of any casualty, a person will not be able to apply for pension commutation. His family will get only family pension which is very less. Those who opt for VRS will not be able to claim the benefit of the third pay revision. ... With 4G services starting soon and the proposed tariff hike in the sector, BSNL will become eligible for the third pay revision,"

The report also says that VRS offered by banks a few years ago was a far better scheme than the one currently being offered to BSNL staffers.

The BSNL VRS scheme has been in news with chairman and managing director, P K Purwar claiming that approximately half or over 77,000 of the 1.6 lakh employees at BSNL had opted for VRS. Latest news reports suggested that the VRS scheme was likely taken by 79,100 staffers and it was likely to hit 80,000 staffers soon. BSNL, a loss-making state-run enterprise had been merged with MTNL.

According to the plan, all regular and permanent employees of BSNL, including those on deputation to other organisations or posted outside the corporation on deputation basis, who attended the age of 50 years or above are eligible to seek voluntary retirement under the scheme.

BSNL according to reports was looking at savings of Rs 7,000 crores in its annual wage bill if 70,000 - 80,000 staffers had opted for the VRS scheme.

Here are a few tweets so far:

Meanwhile, a letter on the All India Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited Executives' Association suggests that the VRS scheme may not be as bad as the staffers have alleged. The association on its website has published a copy of a letter by Arvind Vadnerkar, Director (HR) with the BSNL Board. The letter, available here(opens a pdf document in a new tab), suggests that the VRS package is "attractive".

Vadnerkar in his letter states,

"BSNL Management thank Government of India for bringing out a revival package for BSNL. Voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) is one of the intervention to strengthen BSNL to make it viable. In the revival package, Government has offered a very attractive VRS to all the willing employees of BSNL who are more than 50 years."

"The response to the VRS by BSNL employees have been encouraging so far. Here, in Corporate and in Circles, we are taking all necessary steps so that pensions papers of all employees who have opted for VRS in BSNL are processed in timely manner without hassles. Management is also working with the objective that the dues of employees are paid in timely manner including leave encashment. There should not be any apprehension regarding payment of ex-gratia amount as per prescribed time-lines, since the funds for these payments is being made available by the Government of India. The payment of pension, commutation of pension and gratuity in case of combined pension optees will also be made by GoI."

"Some doubts have been expressed by some quarters of employees that VRS group will be treated as a separate group and will be dealt distinctly. Here, it is clarified that for BSNL employees, retirement on VRS (VRS 2019) is neither a distinct nor a separate group but will be at par with retirement on superannuation. Similarly, industrial dearness relief on pension amount will also be available to VRS optees as is available to employees who are retiring on superannuation. Therefore, any such doubts are devoid of any merit."

"It is further clarified that the deferent of pension commutation and gratuity payment for VRS 2019 has been done with due approval of the Cabinet. BSNL management has already taken up with DoT to suitably include the same in the Pension Payment Order (PPO)."

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