Companies

Petroleum Employees’ Union seeks court backing to stall BPCL from signing individual wage pacts with workers

P Manoj Mumbai | Updated on October 20, 2020 Published on October 20, 2020

The Petroleum Employees’ Union (PEU), the largest recognised union at Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd (BPCL), has filed a petition in the Mumbai High Court seeking to quash a notice sent by the state-run oil company urging individual workers to sign the long-term settlement (LTS) on wages offered by the company.

The PEU petition is the latest in a series of legal challenges brought by different employees’ unions opposing the planned privatisation of the company and against the eligibility rules for the Employee Stock Purchase Scheme (ESPS) that excludes workers litigating against the planned privatisation from its ambit.

“BPCL is committing an unfair labour practice by forcing individual workers to sign individual (wage) settlements with it and also forcing the workers to submit undertakings which the Corporation itself drafted and forwarded by email to its workers,” the PEU said in its petition.

Under the principles of collective bargaining and industrial law, an individual worker cannot withdrawal himself from cases and disputes which are being agitated by his Union. And, whether they sign any document with the Corporation or not, the workers will still be entitled to all the benefits that their unions receive in an award or order or settlement, it submitted.

The PEU has asked the court to direct BPCL to extend the same ad-hoc benefits currently granted to a select group of individual workers and two minority union members that have signed the LTS.

While the PEU and other unions have been agitating for signing the LTS, which are long overdue, BPCL was “not interested in negotiating/ bargaining in good faith with the unions, but rather only interested in crushing the workers in order to make the Corporation as attractive as possible for a private investor/ buyer”, it said.

“BPCL is acting in illegal ways to break the petitioner and other unions, by threatening and coercing individual workers to submit undertakings it has drafted. The undertaking states that individual workers will withdraw all pending cases and disputes against the Corporation and declare themselves as not a party to any such dispute, even if it is pursued by their Unions,” the PEU petition alleged.

The PEU cannot agree to the LTS being unilaterally imposed on it, as the said LTS is not even a settlement because clause 1 (f) of LTS states that BPCL can “unilaterally and arbitrarily” change the terms of the LTS every three years.

“Even more absurdly, the new buyer / investor can change the terms of the settlement at any time it feels like,” it contended.

Responding to a representation from the Petitioner Union to stop its illegal “union breaking activities and negotiate” with them, BPCL allegedly said it cannot negotiate with the Petitioner Union and that the Union can either take the LTS being offered to it with the conditions attached or “get nothing at all”.

“It is clear that BPCL is not offering an “LTS” but rather a “gift for buyer” as the Corporation does not care about the Petitioner or other workers, but in fact only cares about how to make the Corporation as attractive as possible for the private investors/ buyer,” it added.

During a hearing held on October 15, the Counsel for BPCL said the petition is “not maintainable as sufficient efficacious remedy is available” to the petitioner.

The petition will again be heard on October 27.

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Published on October 20, 2020
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