With LPG distributors choosing to stay away from what they call strictly a labour dispute, it is the consumers who are caught in the crossfire.

The crisis over the distribution of LPG cylinders is threatening to worsen with headload workers’ labour unions and LPG transport contractors refusing to reach a settlement regarding the wages of labourers.

With LPG distributors choosing to stay away from what they call strictly a labour dispute, it is the consumers who are caught in the crossfire.

The LPG distribution chain of Indian Oil Corporation and Hindustan Petroleum has been brought to a standstill. With IOC holding a chunk of the LPG market in the district, the breakdown in distribution has already affected a large number of consumers, who have been waiting since weeks for their refill cylinders.

After July 26, not a single LPG cylinder has come to the godown of the 35-odd IOC agencies in the district. If the government does not intervene right now, the LPG shortage will force hotels to shut shop next week while domestic consumers will have to look for alternative fuels to run their kitchen; says an LPG distributor in the city.

All oil companies depend on transporting and handling contractors to deliver cylinders to the godowns of LPG distributors. According to the agreement between the oil companies and distributors, it is the duty of the transport contractors engaged by the company to provide manpower or engage local labourers to load/unload cylinders and stack these at the distributors’ godowns. The wages of labourers have to be paid by the transport contractors.

The problems started in mid-May when a section of the transport contractors refused to pay the statutory levy charges of 27 per cent towards the Headload Workers’ Welfare Fund Board.

The District Labour Officer, after conciliatory talks with the labour unions and transport contractors, issued an order on July 31 that the contractors have to pay the wages of Rs. 830 per LPG load, plus levy charges of 27 per cent, `wherever it is applicable.’

The levy charges are applicable only in the project areas of the Welfare Fund Board in the district, which is mostly restricted to busy city areas like Chalai, Medical College, Palayam or Peroorkada.

The current stalemate has been aggravated because while some transport contractors are refusing to pay the levy, some others engaged by some oil companies are willing to pay this levy charges irrespective of the locality; points out a LPG distributor. The labour unions have also been demanding that the loading/unloading wages be revised.

The stand taken by the LPG distributors in this crisis has been that they are not legally bound to pay the wages or levy.

They maintain that the current issue is strictly between labour unions and transport contractors. This stand-offish attitude of distributors have not exactly helped the situation.

The long and short of all this is that most LPG agencies in the district have a huge backlog of bookings of over 14 days or more now.

The consumers might be in for a long wait before the distribution network sets itself right.