Collector issues orders to seize trucks as talks fail

With no movement of Indane cooking gas cylinders from the liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) bottling plant of Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) at Paripally since the past four days, the Onam mood may lose its glow in the districts of Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Pathanamthitta, Alappuzha and parts of Kottayam.

LPG transport workers, drivers and cleaners, have struck work over bonus payment. As an emergency measure, District Collector B. Mohanan has invoked the provisions of the Essential Commodities Maintenance Act and ordered the seizure of the trucks as part of a move to work out alternative arrangements.

Under the supervision of Regional Joint Labour Commissioner A.K. Sreehari, the district administration authorities with police support seized the Indane LPG cylinder transport trucks on Friday evening. Mr. Sreehari told The Hindu that the trucks would be operated by roping in other drivers. Measures were being taken to ensure supply from Saturday, he said.

However, the modalities of this alternative arrangement are yet to be worked out. The Collector issued the orders to seize the trucks when the talks held on Friday morning with representatives of the IOC, truck owners and the LPG transport workers drew a blank.

Indane distributors said the four-day halt in supply had resulted in the backlog reaching more than 50 days. Even if the supply was resumed on Saturday, meeting the Onam LPG demand of Indane consumers in the affected districts would be a difficult proposition, they said. It would take at least a fortnight for the supply to get back to normal. They said the godowns were kept closed since the past five days and since there was no distribution, there was no collection of empty cylinders too.

Every day 160 truckloads of LPG cylinders move out of the Paripally plant to the distributors spread out in the five districts.

Each load comprises 400 cylinders. An equal amount of empty cylinders are brought back to the plant each day.

The majority of LPG transport workers are contract employees of the owners of the trucks contracted by IOC.

Truck owners say these workers have no locus standi to demand bonus., Last year on the eve of the Onam season, they went on strike demanding bonus. Following an agreement, a bonus of Rs. 10,000 to the driver and Rs. 5000 to the cleaner was distributed by the truck owners.

This time the transport workers demanded a hike of 20 per cent on the bonus given last year. But the truck owners slashed even last year’s bonus amount and announced Rs. 3,500 for the drivers and Rs. 1,000 for the cleaners.

This led to the dispute and the strike. Talks called by Labour Minister Shibu Baby John on Thursday at Thiruvananthapuram to settle the issue also did not meet with success.

An officer at the IOC plant clarified that all IOC staff at the plant are on duty and a huge number /of cylinders are kept filled. The shortage occurred because these cylinders could not be transported to the distributors on account of the strike.

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