Oil sector strike nearing end, says minister (Second Lead)

January 9th, 2009 - 8:30 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Jan 9 (IANS) Striking workers of the state-owned Oil India Ltd (OIL) and Bharat Petroleum (BPCL) will call off their stir, Petroleum Minister Murli Deora said here Friday.“The illegal strike seems to be over. In the whole country, the situation has improved,” the minister said at a news conference here.

“Near-normal situation is expected in BPCL by evening. The IOC (Indian Oil Corp) Panipat refinery will start output later today, while the Mathura refinery will start operations within 12 hours,” Deora said. “The government is confident the oil strike will be called off within next six to 12 hours.”

The Oil Sector Officers Association, the umbrella organisation of about 45,000 employees of 14 state-owned energy firms, called for the strike, demanding higher wages.

Talks with the government failed late Thursday night with both sides sticking to their stands.

Deora, who also rejected talks with the strikers if they did not resume work, Friday morning sought help of the Territorial Army to pitch in for the striking employees.

“With the situation worsening with every passing hour, the Territorial Army is likely to step in to end the petroleum strike,” Deora said.

At the same conference, Petroleum Secretary Raghav Sharan Pandey warned the employees to call off the strike or face the axe.

“There are only two options before you: join work immediately or face arrest under ESMA (Essential Supplies Maintenance Act) or NSA (National Security Act),” Pandey said.

Maintaining that “there is no pleasure in dismissing people”, Pandey said strikers also faced disciplinary action, which could include dismissal from service.

Oil and Natutral Gas Corp (ONGC) has already sacked 54 employees while IOC and GAIL India (formerly Gas Authority of India) axed three staffers each, he said.

The petroleum secretary admitted “the situation was really bad” till Friday morning, but added it would improve by 8 p.m. Friday. “If IOC’s situation improves, by tomorrow we will get some relief.”

According to him, only 62 of its 389 petrol outlets were working in the national capital; it was a similar situation in other metros as well.

IOC chairman Sarthak Behuria at his press conference said the situation was stabilising. “The situation is coming back to normal, and things will improve over the weekend. Normalcy in supplies should happen by Monday. Some officials in south India are already back at work,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Home Minister P. Chidambaram said he was willing to talk to the strike leaders, but appealed to them to end the agitation immediately “as they are placing an intolerable burden on the people”.

“Strike is not the way. Strong action is being taken, I understand,” he added.

Chidambaram was appointed by the prime minister to head a team to examine the striking oil sector employees’ demands and report back to him in a month.

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