January 8 strike gets bigger as 19 trade unions at IOC serve notice

New Delhi: A total of 19 trade unions comprising of both pipeline and refinery employees at Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) have served strike notices for January 8 to protest against the state-run refiner’s asset monetisation plan. Employee unions in the PSU oil sector have claimed that the January 8 protest is the biggest strike call issued by trade unions since 1979 as PSU employees cutting across oil PSUs are expected to take part in the protests against the government’s PSU disinvestment policy.

January 8 strike gets bigger

Earlier, the strike call by Central trade unions was aimed against the privatisation of profit-making Maharatna PSU, BPCL (Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited). However, ever since the news of Indian Oil looking at asset monetisation broke out, employee unions and associations at Indian Oil have decided to join the other employees in the oil PSU sector to protest against the same.

Why are Indian Oil employees protesting against asset monetisation?

Raj Kishore Singh, vice-president of All India Petroleum Workers’ Federation, said, “The monetisation of pipelines of Indian Oil will neither be in the interest of the company or the nation. Indian Oil pipelines carry crude oil and petroleum products across the length and breadth of the country and are a robust source of revenue for the company. Passing on the ownership to a private player will ultimately dent Indian Oil’s account books and will Indian Oil into a sick company. And the government will then get an excuse to privatise Indian Oil. This move poses serious danger to the existence of Indian Oil and its employees.”

In a letter accessed by PSU Watch and circulated internally amid members of Indian Oil Officers’ Association (IOOA) on December 28, 2019, the IOOA said, “Removal of pipelines from Indian Oil’s umbrella will directly & adversely hit its overall performance, as it works on the synergy among value chain from crude to petroleum product marketing. The national oil companies, as well as multinational oil companies across the world, are of mega-size and ideally, we should look forward to making Indian Oil of a similar size through organic as well as inorganic growth. The opportunity of Government of India’s disinvestment program should be used to enhance the position of Indian Oil, by acquisitions in upstream and Natural Gas business.”

Officers’ Association offer support to agitating trade unions

While staying away from issuing a strike call, the officers’ association at Indian Oil has extended moral support to the agitating trade unions. In a letter dated January 2, circulated internally amidst the IOOA, the association has told members, “We also appeal to our Members to record our solidarity by skipping lunch on 8th of January 2020.” Informally, Indian Oil officers are also considering taking sick leaves on January 8 to stay away from work in solidarity with protesting unions, sources said.

However, the view within the employee unions who are taking part in the January 8 strike is that the officers’ association is yielding to pressure by the management by not stepping out to join the striking employees. The view has been voiced by sources in the trade unions who have refused to identify themselves, saying that this a difficult time and voicing such opinions publically will deal a blow to the unity between employees and officers at Indian Oil.

What has the management said?

In his New Year’s message to employees, Indian Oil CMD Sanjeev Singh had categorically denied “select media reports” and “WhatsApp theories” on plans to hive off Indian Oil’s pipeline business. However, in an official response to PSU Watch, the management had said that the company is looking at asset monetisation. Sources said that the same was reiterated by Singh in his New Year’s message to employees.

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