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Ministry raises red flag on law banning strikes in oil sector

The UPA Government’s plan to bring a legislation to make it illegal for petroleum employees to go on strike has run into rough weather....

Written by Maneesh Chhibber | New Delhi | Published: February 27, 2009 1:51:11 am

The UPA Government’s plan to bring a legislation to make it illegal for petroleum employees to go on strike has run into rough weather,with the Law Ministry questioning the provisions of the proposed law.

Sources said the Law Ministry has referred the matter back to the Petroleum Ministry.

“We have sent the file back to the Petroleum Ministry,asking them to rework the draft Bill. We wanted to know how somebody could be sent to jail for striking,and that too with stringent bail provisions. It has now been indicted to us that the Government has also given up on its intention to bring an ordinance for banning strikes,” said a senior Law Ministry officer,who did not want to be named.

Sources in the Petroleum Ministry also said that unhappy with some draconian provisions in the proposed law,the Home Ministry refused to give any inputs on the draft Bill.

“The Home Ministry has informed us that it would not like to comment on the provisions in the Bill. While the official communiqué says that the reason for this is that since a policy decision has already been taken to bring the law,it had no comments to make,the actual reason is something else,” said a senior officer.

The proposed legislation — Petroleum Sector Employees (Prohibition of Strikes) Bill,2009 — is aimed at banning strikes by all categories of employees of oil companies,including contractual staff and employee associations.

The decision to bring the legislation was taken after a recent three-day strike by employees of state-owned oil companies crippled the economy and brought the country to a standstill.

According to the draft Bill,a copy of which is with The Indian Express,striking oilmen will face,in addition to strict disciplinary action including summary dismissal,jail terms of up to a year and/or a fine of up to Rs 50,000.

It also allows the police to arrest striking employees without a warrant,while denying the arrested employee the facility of bail unless the prosecution has been heard by a magistrate and given an opportunity to oppose the bail plea.

A Law Ministry officer,who dealt with the issue,said the main objection of the Ministry was to the stringent provisions in the Bill.

“Why have such a law only for the petroleum sector? Why not include other sectors,including transport,civil aviation,railways,etc,in the proposed law? Our view is that the Government should revive the Essential Services Maintenance Act,1981,which lapsed in 1990,” the officer said. “Other than this,there are enough provisions in the National Security Act to deal with attempts by any section of society to disrupt the economic or financial sector.”

Sources said with elections so near,the Government won’t issue an ordinance to bring in such a law,which is certain to become unpopular with employees in the oil sector.

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