As a fresh round of talks called by the Labour Department on Thursday to find a settlement to the indefinite strike by contract transport workers attached to the liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) bottling plant of Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) at Paripally, near here, failed, the workers have decided to intensify the stir.

The workers, under the banner of an agitation council led by the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), the Indian National Trade Union Congress, and the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, are on strike demanding bonus.

Thursday’s talks, called by Additional Labour Commissioner Vincent Alex, were the 15th round of discussions held to find a solution to the issue. The talks were attended by representatives of the trade unions of the workers and the lorry contractors’ union and officials of the IOC plant.

S. Sudhir Kumar, district secretary of the LPG Workers Union, said the transport workers would take out marches to the houses of the trucks owners and to the Secretariat as part of the move to intensify the strike. He said though the workers had agreed to a reduced bonus as part of a gesture to end the strike, the lorry owners had rejected it.

He said they had earlier demanded a bonus of Rs.15,000 for the truck drivers and Rs.5,500 for the cleaners. During Thursday’s talks, the amounts were reduced to Rs.10,500 and Rs.5,150, respectively. He said that each driver who worked for nearly 15 hours a day was paid just Rs.525 as wages.

Last year, the drivers were paid a bonus of Rs.10,000 each and the cleaners Rs.5,000 each.

The strike is by the workers who transport LPG cylinders from the IOC plant to 87 gas agencies spread across the districts of Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Pathanamthitta, and Alappuza, and parts of Idukki and Kottayam districts. Mr. Kumar alleged that the IOC officials and the government representatives were siding with the lorry owners.

Mr. Kumar said the truck owners were responsible for bringing the distribution of LPG cylinders in the southern districts of the State to a grinding halt. As the cylinders were an essential commodity, the workers would demand the arrest of the truck owners under the Essential Services Maintenance Act. The trucks should also be seized by the government under the Act, he said.

Meanwhile, with the strike entering the fourth day on Thursday, Indane agents in the southern districts said their stock position had become almost nil. Some of the agents in and around Kollam city and in areas of Thiruvananthapuram district bordering Kollam received a load each on Wednesday and Thursday. Such loads were despatched through the 16 trucks that have been exempted from the strike by the unions.

The owners (six of them) of these trucks have agreed to meet the bonus demand of the transport workers. The workers are refusing the ply the remaining 132 trucks attached to the bottling plant. Mr. Kumar said the owners of these 132 trucks should be blacklisted by the IOC.

Earlier in the day, the striking workers led by the union leaders marched to the office of the Assistant Commissioner of Police at Chathannur to press their demands. The dharna in front of the ACP office was inaugurated by CITU district secretary K. Thulasidharan.

In a statement, P.K. Gurudasan, MLA, called for the urgent intervention of the State government to find a solution to the strike. He said the strike was the result of the truck owners backtracking on their assurance of giving bonus to the workers. The government should abandon its stand of siding with the trucks owners. If the trucks owners continued to be intransigent, the government should give the bonus to the workers, seize the trucks, and entrust their operation to the workers. Such steps were needed in the larger interests of ensuring LPG supply in the southern districts, Mr. Gurudasan said.

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