Essential services act advocated to tackle oil sector strike (Lead)

January 5th, 2009 - 10:31 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Jan 5 (IANS) Unable to convince oil sector employees to cancel their indefinite strike, starting from Wednesday, the petroleum ministry Monday asked states to invoke the stringent provisions of the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) or the National Security Act (NSA) to tackle the work stoppage.”I appeal to the employees to reconsider their decision to go on strike in the light of the difficult time the economy is going through,” Petroleum Minister Murli Deora told reporters.

The Oil Sector Officers’ Association (OSOA), an umbrella organisation representing 45,000 oil sector employees, has threatened strike from Wednesday, demanding higher wages.

Deora said he was willing to meet the association representatives Monday, but they refused his overture. All oil companies have taken contingency measures in case the strike goes ahead, he added.

Petroleum Secretary R.S. Pandey said the state governments have been asked to invoke the ESMA or the centre’s NSA to deal with the strike.

“The Assam government has already invoked the ESMA, while other state governments have said that they are in the process of doing so,” Pandey said.

According to Indian Oil Corp chairperson Saarthak Behuria, the immediate effect of the strike would be on the supply of aviation fuel (ATF) and the IOC has taken the help of senior officials and the territorial army to man all the supply stations.

“One of our worries is that there will be panic buying and booking at the start of the strike,” he said.

Pandey added that the strike was “illegal” as per various high court judgements. Oil companies plan to initiate contempt of court proceedings against the employees who go on strike, he added.

He said there were indications that not all sections of the oil sector officers would strike work. Hindustan Petroleum Corp employees will not join the direct action.

“Similarly, we understand that BPCL (Bharat Petroleum Corp) refineries will be working as will IOC (Indian Oil Corp) continue production,” Pandey said.

OSOA president Amit Kumar, however, denied this claim, stating that the entire membership would participate in the strike. “These are lies,” he said, referring to Pandey’s statement.

Kumar said the association had first approached the government for pay revisions in August 2008 and had got firm commitment towards it from Petroleum Minister Deora and Minister of Public Enterprises Santosh Mohan Dev in November.

“But, even after that it was not honoured. We want those commitments to be honoured, we don’t want to wait another month for the government to come to a decision,” he said.

Delineating the contingency steps planned by the government and the oil companies, Pandey said if required, petroleum products would be sourced from private refineries. “They have assured us that they will rise to the challenge, even at the cost of their export obligation,” he said.

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