| An empty petrol pump on Hill Cart Road in Siliguri. A Telegraph picture
Siliguri, June 13: Workers of hired oil-tankers today called off their ceasework temporarily and agreed to work till Friday when they will have a meeting with Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) officials at New Jalpaiguri.
Drivers and cleaners of over 300 oil tankers, members of the Citu-affiliated Siliguri Motor Drivers and Transport Workers' Union, had resorted to ceasework since Saturday, protesting against the 'unfair cut in payments' by the IOC. Though they are not employees of the oil company, the staff continued their ceasework till this afternoon, till the decision to withdraw the strike was taken at a bipartite meeting with IOC officials.
The strike had brought the distribution of fuel to north Bengal and Sikkim to a halt, causing inconvenience to vehicle-owners as pumps have dried up since last evening.
'The IOC authorities have been slashing payments to tanker owners, citing vague reasons like shortage in oil transported by their vehicles,' said Dibash Chaubey, a district committee member of Citu. 'The owners, in turn, have been deducting money from drivers' and cleaners' salaries.'
According to Citu leaders, such deduction was not rational. 'The IOC officials seal the nozzles of every tanker after it is refilled with fuel. Only the staff of petrol pumps can reopen them. How can the IOC allege shortage of fuel and blame those persons running the tankers for it' said Chaubey.
'At today's meeting, it was decided that the workers will resume work,' said T.K. Biswas, senior terminal manager, IOC. 'They have placed some demands before us, which will be discussed at a meeting on Friday.'
Representatives of the Citu-affiliated union, however, made it clear that their problem needed an immediate solution. 'We will not accept any slash in our wages without a proper reason,' said Jiten Roy, joint secretary of the union. 'We will cooperate with the IOC but they will have to fulfil our demands.'
IOC officials, already worried over the ceasework, however appeared puzzled. 'The owners of the tankers have a contract with our company. We don't know why those workers cannot settle the issue with their employers instead of blaming us,' said an IOC official.
Petrol pump owners in the region have expressed resentment over the strike. 'Many outlets ran short of stock and the staff at the pumps had to face the wrath of the public,' said Shyamal Pal Choudhury, president of North Bengal Petrol Dealers' Association. The IOC terminal at New Jalpaiguri supplies fuel to Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, North Dinajpur and even Sikkim.