Workers's of Sri Lanka's state-run petroleum firm are set to launch an indefinite strike from midnight on 24 April against the government's proposed deal with India to jointly operate an oil storage facility at the strategic eastern port town of Trincomalee.
Sri Lanka and India are expected to sign an agreement to jointly invest and develop the Trincomalee Port and establish a petroleum refinery and other industries there.
But Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) Trade Union Collective workers have threatened to cripple the entire transportation sector in the country.
Sri Lanka’s Minister of Petroleum, Chandima Weerakkody, called the strike ‘unacceptable’ and called the accusations against the government ‘ill-founded’.
The workers have three demands, which include getting the government to stop granting outright ownership of some 14 World War II oil storage tanks in the eastern port district of Trincomalee.
The Petroleum Joint Union Alliance says it opposes the proposal to transfer operations rights to oil tanks to India, since the agreement would benefit the Lanka IOC, Indian Oil's subsidiary, allowing it to expand further and the CPC – which is already in debt – will incur further financial losses.
They also asked the government to shelve plans to build a new oil refinery with Chinese assistance in the southern port of Hambantota, and to immediately begin repairing the existing refinery near Colombo.
"We will be striking from tomorrow and stop all fuel distribution in the country," Bandula Saman Kumara, a spokesman for the trade unions told reporters on Monday.
He said by mid-week the Colombo International Airport would face the danger of becoming non-operational due to fuel sector strike.
At least 73 of the 99 storage tanks in Trincomalee are to be managed under a new equity arrangement between the two countries, Lankan Petroleum Minister Chandima Weerakkody had said earlier.
The union has taken the decision to strike after President Maithripala Sirisena has reportedly turned down a request for a meeting to discuss the issue.
Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who will visit India on 25 April, had said yesterday the development of eastern port district of Trincomalee will be discussed during his visit
The Sri Lankan Minister of Petroleum, Chandima Weerakkody, said that he believes the fuel supply will take place without any inconvenience to the people.
Speaking to the Daily Mirror, Weerakkody said that the unions were unaware of the facts and therefore were making false allegations about the Oil Tank Farm.
Chandima Weerakkody, Minister of Petroleum, Sri Lanka I have submitted a Cabinet Paper requesting permission to develop tanks in Hambantota in partnership with the CPC and the Sri Lanka Port Authority. The Trincomalee tanks were given to India for 35 years at a cost of 100,000 USD per annum and the payment had been made for 15 years.
Speaking at a media briefing held in Matale on Sunday, Minister Weerakkody said all petroleum trade unions have been called for discussions Monday morning and steps will be taken to allay the fears of the workers if any, assuring that fuel supplies would remain uninterrupted.
As reported by The Colombo Page, Minister of Petroleum and Chandima Weerakkody said on Sunday, that there will be no interruptions in fuel supplies despite strike threats by the Ceylon Petroleum corporation (CPC) workers.
(With inputs from PTI)