Drivers of oil tankers and their helpers in Odisha will go on a statewide strike on 16 April.
They are demanding minimum wages of at least Rs 18,000 for the helpers and at least Rs 30,000 for the drivers.
These drivers and helpers work primarily for the Indian Oil Corporation Limited, as also for Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited and Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited — all public-sector companies. But the operators of the oil tankers are hired through transporter-contractors.
“These workers transport fuel from oil depots to pumping stations, transport kerosene to remote rural areas, supply fuel to ships coming to Paradip port, supply furnace oil to industry, among other critical activities. They carry around 24,000 litres of fuel every day, and operate under very difficult conditions. Yet they are getting paid peanuts,” said Janardhan Pathy, president of the All Odisha Transport Workers’ Federation, which is affiliated to the All India Road Transport Workers’ Federation (AIRTWF), speaking to Newsclick.
“At present, the drivers are typically paid around Rs 7,000-8,000 a month while the helpers are getting a mere Rs 2,000-3,000 per month. How can one survive on such little money, let alone live a decent life or support one’s family? And many of them have come from outside the state. It’s barely enough for food.”
There are between 2,500 and 3,000 oil tankers operating in the state, he said. There are five major oil depots in Odisha — Paradip, Balasore, Bhubaneshwar and Jharsuguda and Sambalpur.
“We are demanding a minimum wage of Rs 18,000 for helpers, which is Rs 600 per day, which are not even fair or decent wages, but only the minimum wage. And for drivers, we demand at least Rs 1,000 per day, which means Rs 30,000 monthly, because they are highly skilled workers,” said Pathy, who is also vice-president of AIRTWF.
The oil tanker workers have been raising this demand with the Indian Oil Corporation for a few years now.
“The company maintained that these drivers and helpers are not their employees, because they are hired through transporters. And the transporters said they could not pay more because they were not getting money from the companies,” he said.
“Now that we are united and going on strike, Indian Oil has tried to contact us. We had told them earlier that we’re prepared for negotiations. But for the past two to three years, they paid us no heed. The government has been completely callous to the workers. So we are going to fight till we get the minimum wages that we demand.”