Divestment: Where do PSU officer groups stand on Jan 8 strike?

As the Central trade unions served a strike notice for the Jan 8 agitation against disinvestment policy, where do the officers’ associations stand on the matter
Divestment: Where do PSU officer groups stand on Jan 8 strike?

New Delhi: As the Central trade unions served a strike notice on Tuesday for the January 8 agitation against the Centre's PSU divestment policy, where do the officers' associations stand on the matter? While denying that it will be part of the January 8 strike, the Federation of Oil PSU Officers (FOPO) has said that it does not think strike is an effective way to oppose a government which is hell-bent on pursuing its divestment policy and has refused to budge so far.

Why is FOPO not joining Jan 8 strike against divestment?

"We are not against privatisation. But we are against the idea of privatising profitable, well-run companies. We have chosen to stay away from the January 8 strike because it has a bunch of issues on its table and divestment is one of them. Had the strike been specifically against divestment, we would have considered joining," said Mukul Kumar, convenor of FOPO. He added, however, that strike is an option that the federation is willing to consider if need be, but the first line of resistance would be press conferences and building public opinion against divestment of profitable, excellently-run PSUs.

Indian Oil, ONGC officers to stay away from strike

Both Indian Oil and ONGC officers' associations have said that they will not be part of the January 8 strike. On being asked to comment on the matter, Alok Roy, president of Indian Oil Officers' Association, said that the association has in the past lent moral support to the cause of the protesting trade unions, however, he said that the January 8 strike is a customary annual strike and that is why the officers' association has stayed away from it. "Trade unions affiliated to political parties in the Opposition hold an agitation in January or February every year to oppose the Centre's policies.

This year, the protests will be against the disinvestment policy as well, among other issues. And that is why we have not joined the strike. But any efforts to sell Indian Oil in full or part will be opposed by officers' association tooth and nail, and we are not adverse to joining hands with the union in case of any such decision, considering its strategic importance for the nation," Roy said. Amit Kumar, president of ONGC's Association of Scientific and Technical Officers (ASTO), responded in the negative when asked if the ONGC Officers' Association will take part in the January 8 protest. "No such decision has been taken at FOPO-level so far," Kumar said.

Will the 'no-strike' plan be enough?

Earlier this month at a press conference, the FOPO had clearly said that strike was not an option that it was considering while admitting that the government is "mighty" and it will be difficult to prevail on them. On being asked if "no-strike plan" is going to be enough to move the government, Kumar said, "What is the other option? Strikes have been happening all along, but have they been able to move the government? According to me, the best way to get the government to change its policy is to build public opinion against it. Strikes are not an option that we will not consider. But for now, this seems like a more effective way to resist disinvestment."

What do sources say?

According to sources, the officers within BPCL Officers' Association are keen on joining the strike with the other trade unions, because the cause is the same. However, they are in two minds because they risk losing their jobs if they take part in the strike as the Industrial Dispute Act, 1947 does not offer them any protection. Another source said that the officers' association is considering other options like "soft strike" or bringing in family members to take part in strike.

But for now, it is choosing to stay away from the plan. On being told that the BPCL officers' association is keen on going for a strike, FOPO's Kumar said that the individual associations are free to go for a strike. "Any officers' association does not need FOPO's permission to serve a strike notice. However, when FOPO serves a strike notice, all the officers' associations are expected to take part."

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