MUMBAI : Over 12,000 employees of state-run Bharat Petroleum Corp. Ltd (BPCL) who have threatened to go on strike on 28 November against the Union government’s decision to privatise the company may see workers’ unions of other public sector entities join them in solidarity.

Senior BPCL workers’ union functionaries told Mint that unions cutting across political affiliations from other public sector undertakings (PSUs) such as Indian Oil Corp. Ltd (IOC), Oil and Natural Gas Corp. Ltd (ONGC), Hindustan Petroleum Corp. Ltd (HPCL), Indian Railways, Mahanagar Telecom Nigam Ltd (MTNL), and Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) will join them in planned nationwide protests.

“If the government does not reconsider its decision on BPCL’s privatization, we would be joined by employees of other oil companies in our strike which will go on for multiple days," said Praveen Kumar P., general secretary of Cochin Refineries Employees Association, an affiliate of Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC). In an emailed response, a BPCL spokesperson said, “BPCL employee unions have given a strike notice that they plan to observe a day’s strike on 28 November. All efforts are being made to ensure that the refineries and marketing locations are running normal."

As of 31 March, BPCL had 11,971 permanent and 22,267 temporary, contractual or casual employees. The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) on 20 November approved the sale of government’s entire stake in BPCL. As part of the privatisation process, potential bidders will have to submit an expression of interest (EoI) and after due diligence will be asked to submit price bids. The government has set a 50-day deadline for an outside “asset valuer" to carry out the valuation of BPCL’s assets.

The privatisation of BPCL is expected to attract global energy majors, given that India is the world’s fastest-growing major oil market. The proceeds from the sale will also be crucial for the government to contain its fiscal deficit amid lower-than-expected goods and services tax collections and a corporate tax cut that will cost the exchequer 1.45 trillion. The government plans to sell its 53.3% stake in the company which may fetch 60,000 crore.

“We feel cheated by the government now. We had joined BPCL on the security of a government job but with privatization, our livelihoods are threatened. We are protesting for our rights," said a BPCL employee on the condition of anonymity.

BPCL was nationalised by an Act of Parliament in 1976 after being set up in the 1920s as Burmah Shell -- an alliance between Royal Dutch Shell, Burmah Oil Co. and Asiatic Petroleum (India).

This is not the first time that a Bharatiya Janata Party-led government has mooted the privatisation of BPCL. A similar attempt in 2003 by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government was scuttled by the Supreme Court, which ruled that the privatisation required parliamentary approval. The Narendra Modi government, which enjoys a majority, has repealed the law, clearing the way for the stake sale.

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