“Make no mistake, it will be “suicidal” to privatise the two oil companies – BPCL and HPCL,” – this was the view expressed by the trade unions and workers’ representatives from the oil and petroleum public sector undertakings from all over the country, who were speaking at a National Convention held at Mumbai on October 26.
The workers’ fronts have declared a one-day strike on November 28, as a mark of protest against the Modi government's aggressive move for privatisation of the strategically important public entities. The strike will be observed by all refinery, marketing and pipeline workers of Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL) and Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL).
The trade unions have warned that the fallout of the selling off of the Centre’s entire 53.29% stake in the BPCL will result in the vital energy security and energy economy of the India to be “under the grip of private oil giants from within the country and abroad.” The BPCL has 24% market share in the petroleum products marketing in India.
With regards to HPCL, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), is looking to sell its 51.11% equity stake in the company after failing to derive any benefit out of last year’s acquisition. The government-owned company, which is also the country’s largest crude oil and natural gas exploration company was, in January 2018, forced to buy the HPCL stake, pushing ONGC into high debt.
Also read: Govt ‘Haste’ to Privatise BPCL Worries Employees, as Global Monopolies Eye Expansion
The trade unions active in the public sector oil companies will be observing a week-long protest starting from November 11. Rallies, processions, gate meetings will be jointly held by the permanent and contract workers. Given the history of deterioration of the working conditions following privatisation, the recent proposal of the government has not been welcomed by the staff of the companies. Nearly 12,000 permanent employees and 20,000 contract employees are currently employed by the BPCL. Whereas, HPCL employs over 11,000 permanent and more than 31,000 contractual staff.
According to the workers’ fronts, the negative consequences of the privatisation of BPCL and HPCL will be many. At first, it will lead to “surrendering” the control on fuel pricing to private players. Today, more than 75% of the Indian fuel marketing business is owned by three public owned companies, namely, IOCL, BPCL and HPCL, two of which are up for grabs by private players.
Though, the government has freed petrol price from its control in June 2010 and diesel in October 2014, it plays an important role in absorbing inflationary shocks. Once privatised, one can easily imagine as to how the petroleum products prices may start skyrocketing in the country, as per the trade unions.
The ripple effects will be observed in other sectors as well which are hugely dependent on petroleum products, be it railways or the aviation sector. Currently, BPCL is the manufacturer of a huge range of petroleum products which include high speed diesel for railways and power generation, kerosene and LPG which are major products consumed by families and even fly ash which is used in construction.
Also read: Disinvestment of BPCL: Global Energy Giants Eye Indian Market
Calling the decision “totally under the clutch of few crony private business giants and their foreign collaborators”, oil and petroleum workers representatives had warned of major disruption in the whole economy.
On September 30, a group of Secretaries cleared strategic sales in BPCL, Bharat Earth Movers Ltd (BEML) and the Container Corporation of India (Concor) among others.
Earlier in her maiden budget, presented on July 5, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced a record high disinvestment target of Rs 1.05 lakh crore for the current fiscal year.
The national convention on Saturday also saw participation from leaders of central trade unions, namely, Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) and All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) among others. Even Shiv Sena’s Sena Kamgar Federation has extended its support to the anti–privatisation struggle of the oil and petroleum workers.