350,000 Indian Telecom Workers Strike Over Threat to Jobs

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Wed, 06 Sep 2000, 1:15am EDT 350,000 Indian Telecom Workers Strike Over Threat to Jobs By Abhay Singh

New Delhi, Sept. 6 (Bloomberg) -- About 350,000 Indian telecom workers began an indefinite countrywide strike forcing companies to come up with contingency plans to cope with the likely disruption in communications.

The workers are protesting the government turning the country's telecommunications department into a company without offering adequate assurances that jobs and benefits such as pensions will be protected.

``The department should call us for discussions now,'' said Thomas John K., president, Federation of National Telecom Organisation. ``We are not attending any faults and within three days things could become worse.''

Communications Minister Ram Vilas Paswan yesterday met union leaders in a bid to head off the strike, which could cripple the country's telecom services.

The unions, representing nearly 90 percent of the department's workforce, said his assurances weren't adequate.

``We are thankful the minister took pains to settle some of the important issues but important issues remain,'' said Om P. Gupta, secretary general of the National Federation of Telecom Employees, one of the three unions participating in the strike.

The workers help run and maintain a network of over 20 million lines across the country, except in the two cities of Mumbai and Delhi. Their strike could disrupt local and inter-city calls throughout the country and stall work at companies.

Difficult Days

``It is going to be difficult over the next few days,'' said Bhuvana Ramalingam, public relations manager for Ford India Ltd., the local unit of the world's second-largest automaker. ``There is nothing much one can do about it though we are well-connected through the Internet.''

Ford India is located near the southern Indian city of Chennai.

Other companies such as Compaq Computer (India) Ltd., a unit of the No. 1 maker of personal computers, and Indian software developer DSQ Software Ltd., both based in the southern city of Bangalore, plan to fall back on Internet connections and mobile phones, said company executives.

India plans to convert the department into a company called Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. from Oct. 1. The move is meant to make the department more efficient as the government ends its monopoly over telecom services in line with global trends. Bharat Sanchar will have an equity capital of 50 billion rupees ($1.1 billion).


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), September 06, 2000

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