The Central Government’s decision to dissolve the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) and replace it with seven government-owned corporate entities has expectedly not gone down well with the defence employees’ federations, prompting the latter to consider an indefinite strike again after it was deferred earlier last year.
The Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved a plan to corporatise the 246-year-old OFB, an umbrella body that oversees the 41 ordnance factories across the country. The board will be converted into seven new Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSU), according to media reports.
The entire workforce of the ordnance factories – up to 82,000 employees – and the four lakh defence civilian employees rejected the Centre’s decision, the three recognised federations said in a joint statement on Thursday.
The federations appealed to all the political parties, trade unions, central government employees and the people of the country to protest against “this evil decision” that will have a “serious impact on the national security and Defence preparedness of the country,” said the statement signed by All India Defence Employees’ Federation (AIDEF), Indian National Defence Workers’ Federation (INDWF), and the RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Pratiraksha Mazdoor Sangh (BPMS).
On Thursday, in an immediate action, the defence federations gave a call for a two-day local level demonstration at ordnance factory units across the country. It is intended to be followed by burning of effigies at defence establishments on Saturday, June 19. The workers’ leadership will meet on Sunday to consider “further decisions to fight back, including [an] indefinite strike,” according to the press statement.
C. Srikumar, general secretary, AIDEF, told Newsclick that Wednesday’s decision by the Narendra Modi government was preceded by a “failure report” that was submitted by the Chief Labour Commissioner (CLC) (Central) on Tuesday “in the absence of the three federation’s representatives.”
In 2020, defence employees decided to go on an indefinite strike in October to press for the withdrawal of the Modi government’s privatisation move. The strike action was however deferred after the CLC’s intervention in the matter. A conciliation settlement was reached then, which was followed with talks between federations and the Department of Defence Production (DDP).
Engaged in defence equipment manufacturing, OFB currently operates as a government department under the control of DDP, which is administered by the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
In a letter dated March 9 addressed to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, the federations had alleged that the MoD, through DDP, is “repeatedly violating the conciliation settlement.” The employees’ bodies also lodged a formal complaint with the CLC later that month.
“But the CLC remained a silent spectator all this while,” Srikumar said on Thursday, alleging that the apex organisation in the country tasked with maintaining harmonious industrial relations acted in a “biased” manner. “A failure report was submitted by the CLC on Tuesday in our absence hence, paving the way for the [central] government to go ahead with its corporatisation decision,” Srikumar said.
On Wednesday, DM Rajnath Singh, while speaking to the media, stressed that the service conditions of the defence employees won’t be changed. It was feared that the conversion of OFB into a corporate entity will have a negative impact on the service conditions of the defence employees – a serious bone of contention behind latter’s opposition to the corporatisation move.
Following the latest move, The Hindu reported a government official claiming that all the employees of the OFB belonging to the production units would be transferred to the newly-formed corporate entities on deemed deputation, initially for a period of two years, without any alteration in their service conditions as Central Government employees.
Reacting to the same, Srikumar however, rued: “And what will happen after two years? It is clear that the service conditions of the employees will be diluted in the future, if not immediately.”
OFB's corporatisation was listed as one of the 167 “transformative ideas” to be implemented in the first 100 days of the second term by the Modi government. The decision was finally taken by the Cabinet Committee on Security in July 2020, in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ultimately Going To Be Privatised, says AITUC
Meanwhile, the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) also condemned the Modi government on Thursday, calling the move an “ill conceived decision.”
“Corporatisation of any Govt. Department means it is ultimately going to be privatised... Therefore Corporatisation of Ordnance Factories is against the interest of National Security and Defence preparedness,” the central trade union said in a statement.
The latest decision is also in violation of the written assurances of 5 former defence ministers in the past 20 years, the statement added.
'Destructive Decision', Says CITU
In a press release issued on Thursday, the Centre of Indian Trade Unions condemned what it called a “destructive decision” by the Centre.
“More than seventy five percent requirements of our defence forces are being successfully and timely produced and supplied by our Ordnance Factories with incomparable efficiency and assured quality. Country’s Ordnance Factories network is an unquestionable example of “Atmanirbhar Bharat”, the phrase being so much noisily touted by the Modi Govt, in the respective areas of production and services. There is absolutely no valid rationale for such drastic alteration of the existing structure of the Ordnance Factories network,” it said.
CITU added that the only reason behind the “destructive corporatisation drive” was to “facilitate phased privatisation” of the factories. “And in this case, it is not merely privatisation; it is going to be privatisation with domination of foreign corporates through multi-pronged route,” it added.