Consumers left holding the phone as 30,000 MTNL workers strike

Jul 04, 2012, 07:12 IST | Ashutosh Patil

After a fallout regarding non-payment of pension, MTNL staffers in Mumbai and Delhi declared a daylong strike yesterday, affecting telephone, broadband services

A day after heavy showers disrupted road and electricity services in the city, consumer utilities of Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) subscribers went for a toss in Mumbai and Delhi. However, the latter was not caused by rains, but by more than 30,000 employees of MTNL across Mumbai and Delhi calling for a daylong strike ‘to safeguard their future’.

Tension over pension: Members of the United Forum of Unions & Associations, MTNL, demonstrating outside the Prabhadevi Telephone Exchange in Mumbai yesterday. Pic/Satyajit Desai

On Tuesday, Mumbaikars were complaining of disruptions in telephone services, caused due to pen-down and tool-down strikes by MTNL employees. Subscribers who visited MTNL’s Quick Customer Service Centres across the city were left in the lurch by the staffers, who refused to perform their duties owing to the declaration of a mass agitation. The MTNL executives’ associations of Mumbai and Delhi had declared an agitation for the day following the unsuccessful meeting with the labour commissioner.

Frustrated subscribers turning to the company’s toll-free helpline did not have much luck either. MTNL staffers were present at their offices, they observed a ‘no-work day’. Customers were turned away from making bill payments, buying recharge coupons and even trying to resolve their technical problems. The strike was announced for the pension-related demands of nearly 40,000 employees of MTNL Mumbai and Delhi.

SN Prasad, president of MTNL executives’ association (MEA), told MiD DAY, “We are demanding for the pension policy to be on par with Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL). If the government fails to meet our demands, we have announced a morcha in Mumbai from Shivaji Park, Dadar to the MTNL head office in Prabhadevi on July 18.” He continued, “Since MTNL is struggling to compete with other service providers, we are losing revenue, and if this continues we may lose our pension. Employees who retired in 2007 haven't received their pension fully, and in addition to that their pension hasn't been revised yet. The government has announced to form a pension trust for MTNL employees but we have no faith in it.”

However, MTNL administration did not acknowledge any disruptions to customer services across city. Peeyush Agarwal, executive director of MTNL said, “The employees reached a conciliation during their lunch time, and regular services were not affected. A long meeting was held between the employee representatives and labour commissioner yesterday, since the issue is related to them. We hope the problem will be resolved at the earliest."

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According to senior officials the sale of MTNL products and services was affected during the strike, though the loss hadn’t been estimated. During the strike, subscribers complained about problems with broadband services in certain areas. Slow data transfer speeds of broadband was experienced in central Mumbai and Thane; MTNL officials attributed the reduced speeds to a technical snag. While the actual speed of 2 Mbps broadband connections was reported to be as low as 115 KBps, there were no reports of issues in 3G services. When contacted, officials in the wireless section termed the issues as temporary, and refused to acknowledge them as the impact of the strike.

Yesterday's strike was not the end of the story, however. If their demands are not fulfilled, MTNL employees have prepared a plan of action. A hunger strike is expected to take place on July 12, while a morcha has been planned for July 18, during which services will be affected again. Employees are also planning a work-to-rule on June 24.

Fact sheet
MTNL Subscribers
Landline: 17 lakh
Broadband: 5.7 lakh
GSM: 26 lakh
CDMA: 1 lakh 

Main demands of the employees
>> The government should not form an independent pension trust
>> The system should be set on par with BSNL, where the management contributes 60% and employees contribute 40% of the pension
>> The pension of employees who retired before 2007 should be revised  

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