Ahead of Friday's nationwide petrol bunkers strike, state-run oil marketers today said they are baffled by the move as almost all their demands have already been met but warned that being an Esma subject they may approach the states to scuttle the strike.
The United Petroleum Front (UPF) had last Friday called for a one-day nationwide strike on October 13 to press for various demands including better margins, doing away with steep monetary penalties for not meeting the new marketing discipline guidelines and bringing petroleum items under GST.
The front, which also warned of indefinite strike from October 27 if their demands were not met, represents around 54,000 bunkers belonging to the All-India Petroleum Traders, All-India Petroleum Dealers Association and Consortium of Indian Petroleum Dealers.
Addressing the media jointly, marketing directors of the three state-run OMCs -- IOC, BPCL and HPCL -- rebutted dealers' allegations point-by-point, and said in the last 11 months, their commission was hiked thrice, latest hike being on August 1, taking the total dealer commission to Rs 3.50/L for petrol and Rs 2.10/L for diesel and Rs 45/cylinder of cooking gas.
IndianOil's marketing director B S Canth said dealer commission was also hiked in November 2016 and March 2017.
"Their demands are very unreasonable as almost all their demands have been met and issues resolved. Also this is not a professional way of calling a strike. They did not intimate us on this. We came to know about it in the media.
"But if they've issues with new marketing discipline guidelines and the penalties for not implementing them, then all I can say is that only those flouting these norms need to worry. These are for the benefit of the public," Canth said, adding "we still hope they won't go ahead with the strike."
Still he added he "expects them to see reason and act accordingly, as there is no demand which are met."
S Ramesh, director marketing at BPCL, said OMCs fail to understand why dealers are not happy with the new wages implemented for bunker attendants as the entire wage hike of up to 49 per cent has been absorbed by OMCs.
"In fact, it's a question of short-changing labourers, flouting government fixed minimum wages," said an OMC official.
Hoping that the strike may not happen, OMC officials said luckily hundreds of dealers are coming onto social media saying they are not joining the strike.
These three OMCs have almost 54,000 dealerships, out of which 1,000 are company-owned,company-operated ones, which will remain open if the strike takes place. Of these IOC has 26,000 pumps, BPCL around 13,800 and the rest are of HPCL.
When asked since oil being an essential commodity, will OMCs approach states to clamp the Essential Services Maintenance Act (Esma) against dealers, they said, "we still hope the dealers will listen to reason as all these measures that they are protesting are in public interest."
"But having said that we'll definitely be talking to state respective administrations to look at any measure that will ensure that the public is not inconvenienced," they said.
The revised marketing discipline guidelines, came into effect from October 2, include penalties for short-delivery, which in the first instance can cause Rs 25,000 penalty on the dealer. And the more instances of short-delivery or customer complaints can lead to a fine of up to Rs 2 lakh on the dealer.
If the complaints are too serious it can also lead to cancellation of dealership, which in recent months saw as many as 200 dealers losing their licences in Uttar Pradesh alone, Ramesh said.
Canth also said OMCs fail to understand why dealers are opposing bunker automation. Here again the ultimate beneficiary is the customer as automation guidelines demand that a dealer cannot tamper with anything including the stock with them. Also, this allows the dealer to refuse the stock if he sees that the declared amount and quality is missing, they said, adding in fact thousands of dealers who are automated are so happy that they are thanking the OMCs, they claimed.
OMCs said following government revising upwards the minimum wages, OMCs increased up to 49 per cent wages of bunker attendants but "we've come to know that the higher wages are not being paid to them even though we're reimbursing the entire increase. Also we are paying the salaries to the person manning and taking care of toilet at each pump, running which is part of their licence agreement."
They said total number of automated pumps has touched only 40 per cent so far but will be completed by December 2018.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)