The decision to end the protest, which crippled supplies from the Indian Oil Tanking Ltd (IOTL) plant for over a week, was announced at a conciliation meeting in the presence of a senior official from the office of the Chief Labour Commissioner (Central).
According to sources, senior executives of Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) and representatives of the drivers and lorry owners participated in the meeting, in which drivers agreed to return to work on Wednesday.
The bottling plant is one of three such facilities — the Ennore and Chengalpattu plants being the others — crucial for maintaining Indane supplies to several lakh households in and around Chennai. The smooth functioning of kitchens not just in city households, but in other locations as well is linked to the functioning of the plants.
The shortfall in refill supplies during such agitations is met by drawing loads from other plants thereby resulting in fewer than usual supplies to markets fed by them.
While a drop in the number of loads (a little over 300 cylinders make a load) made available to them was the trigger for the protest by the drivers — for the second time in four months — at the heart of the issue are the statutory checks carried out on the cylinders.
This process involves taking out cylinders from the system for certain checks and to carry out repairs if required. As a consequence, the number of cylinders in circulation comes down and thereby bottles available for refilling are fewer, sources said.
There has been a sharp decline in the number of loads from around 100 a day to 28, when the strike began on January 6. Since the number of loads determines the drivers’ remuneration, fewer trips mean lower income. Sources among distributors said the drivers are paid a salary of Rs. 3,000 and Rs. 750 per load.
A. Devakar Selwyn, secretary, LPG Cylinder Transport Contractors’ Association, said cylinders coming to the other bottling plants were also subjected to statutory checks but that did not result in such a steep fall in the number of loads.
While he claims the number of cylinders withdrawn at the Manali plant was higher, sources at IOC said a total of 12 lakh cylinders underwent statutory checks across the 12 IOC bottling plants in the State and were repaired, when needed, so far this fiscal. By March-end, 2 lakh more bottles would have gone through the process.
At the meeting on Monday, IOC officials said they would explore the possibility of getting the checks done within the Manali plant thereby reducing the time taken.
The strike had led to a backlog of refill supplies to be made by distributors attached to IOTL and it took three or four days to get a refill. For those getting refills from Ennore and Chengalpattu plants, the wait was only around two days.
This will improve once the drivers resume work, sources at IOC said.