OPPOSING THE central government’s decision to privatise Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL), by selling its 53.29 per cent stake in the company, scores of employees from the Mahul refinery took to the streets on Thursday to stage a protest march in the eastern suburbs of Mumbai.
Thousands of employees protested across India, fearing loss of jobs and benefits. Last week, the Narendra Modi government approved the sale of BPCL and four other state-run companies to plug the widening fiscal gap so as to revive the economic slowdown.
Protesters in Mumbai, including clerical staff, workers, technicians and security officials, gathered at the Mahul refinery around 7 am and walked to Babasaheb Ambedkar Chowk near Chembur railway station, ending the protest at 1pm.
“Four months ago, we heard through the media that the government is planning to sell its stake in BPCL. People within the company were already talking about it before the news broke, but nobody was sure,” said Anita Pusalkar, who has worked at BPCL for 29 years as an assistant in the human resource administration.
Protesting employees said the government’s decision will harm their future, adding that apart from job insecurity, a private company will also end their medical benefits and pensions.
“I’ve worked here for 30 years as a technician. I am a government employee and am entitled to a pension, but it may not happen if the company is sold to a private organisation,” Ashok Mahulkar said.
On November 11, non-management employees submitted a notice to the management, stating that they will sit on a strike to send out a message to the Centre.
“To stop us, they initially approached the labour court which ruled in our favour. After that, they filed a petition in the Bombay High Court whose order stops us from sitting on a strike. But the court said we could protest,” Mahulkar added.
Employees said they were clueless as to what the government was planning. “We just know that they have called for bidders and from April 1, 2020, we won’t be government employees,” Pusalkar said.
The employees said they were hopeful that the new chief minister will work in their favour. “Recently, at our meeting in Delhi, 13 MPs came and promised to support us. I hope the government agrees. What I fail to understand is, now that we are reeling from an economic crisis, the government has conveniently decided to sell its stake and get the money. If another economic crisis hits the country, what will they sell then?” Mahulkar asked.