(C) Copyright 1995 Rishab Aiyer Ghosh (rishab@dxm.org)

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India's telecom workers go on strike

19th June 1995: Three employees federations representing 450,000 telecom workers nationwide went declared an indefinite strike today in protest against the government's privatisation programme. Negotiations with Minister for Communications Sukh Ram went on till late on Sunday evening, but were unsuccessful.

The unions claimed that the strike would not affect telephone subscribers, and that their protest was only against some "deviations" from the government's National Telecom Policy, which called for private investment. Still, operations in the few manual exchanges remaining in small towns may be disrupted, as may any maintenance work.

Telecom workers, from the Department of Telecommunications monopoly as well as ITI, a public sector equipment manufacturer, object to the compulsory foreign investment criteria in the tender for basic and cellular services, of which the bids were announced earlier this month. This is implicit in the requirement of prior operational experience - which private Indian companies, naturally, do not have, with the result that all the bids are joint ventures with a foreign stake of up to 49%.

The government is not considering changing its policies. Instead, it has declared the strike illegal, and has asked states to take action on the basis of the Essential Services Maintenance Act.

An exclusive report on India's telecom liberalisation and planned regulatory authority - based on an interview with the Telecom Secretary - will be found here.

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