The Sixth Pay Commission award has triggered a winter of discontent among government, defence personnel and public sector employees for a better deal. The Oil Sector Officers Association, representing 45,000 employees in 14 public sector oil firms, has gone on strike against anomalies in wage hikes and its impact is beginning to be felt across the nation. Matters will take a serious turn when the unions of Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (Bhel) and National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) also join the fray. In this milieu, a hardline approach by the government will not be helpful.
A wiser course will be to get the striking unions back to the negotiation table and impress on them that a high-level committee will act on their genuine demands. Time is clearly of the essence as production from Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) oilfields has fallen to 270,000 barrels per day from 350,000 barrels per day. Gas production, too, has gone down to 17 million cubic metres per day from 50 million cubic metres per day. This has, in turn, affected the functioning of 14-odd fertiliser and three or four power companies. The Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) has lost production at four of its refineries.
Strike struggles by powerful white-collar unions impact the common man as well. Petrol pumps in New Delhi are on the verge of running out of stock. Airline flights have been affected by delays due to refuelling problems.
These disruptions will only be compounded if the issues raised by the oilmen are not addressed. The government must iron out the anomalies in public sector remuneration.
At a time of global economic turmoil, the public sector must be strengthened so that it retains its best talent with a favourable compensation package.