ONGC warns unions against protest action

Vol 26, PW 13 (15 Jun 23) People & Policy

ONGC employee relations chief Rajan Asthana has triggered anger among unions after writing a letter on June 1 (2023) urging employees to put the company's interests before their own.

Asthana's June 1 (2023) letter encouraged employees to think more about declining production and its increasing cost rather than union demands. He spoke up after union leaders visited key executives - uninvited - during office hours on May 26 (2023) and handed over a request to meet ONGC's powerful executive committee, made up of board directors and the chairman.

"Although ONGC maintains an open-door policy for all its employees, including collective bodies, due care should be taken that during working hours, each employee should ensure his or her 100% contribution only at the workplace," writes Asthana in a thinly veiled warning. Asthana stressed that ONGC is in a grim place, reporting a 53% year-on-year decline in consolidated net profit at Rs5701cr ($690m) for the fourth quarter (January to March 2023).

In the same spot last year, ONGC posted a net profit of Rs12,061cr ($1.46bn). The difference is even more significant with the rupee in freefall against the US dollar.

"We are all aware that our company is passing through one of the most challenging times ever faced," adds Asthana. "The recently declared Q4 and 2022-23 results are a concern and a reason for better performance; oil prices, demand for fossil fuel and geopolitical issues add to our concerns."

Unions poured scorn on Asthana's pleas. "We (unions) might go on a sit-in protest across work centres this month (June 2023)," says a source.

"We are not happy with the management's response." Unions claim chairman AK Singh has not met them since his appointment on December 7 (2022).

They add an EC meeting last month (May 2023) failed to consider union demands on organisational structure and the future of workers. Even the new HR director Manish Patil who took charge on May 5 (2023), has not invited the unions for an informal chat, until now customary within a month of taking office.

"All of us should focus on contributing to the company's welfare, " continues Asthana in his June 1 letter. "All need to be assured that the management is fully aware and concerned about the wellbeing of employees; (but) in the present testing times, the sole focus is on strategising to reverse our (declining) production and (rising) cost-of-production."