In an agitation mode since many months, defence employees have now decided to go on indefinite strike, set to begin from October 12, to press for the withdrawal of the Centre’s move to corporatise the Ordnance Factories Board (OFB).
A strike notice, mandated as per law, was served on Tuesday, August 4, by the unions at all the 41 ordnance factories across the country which has the support of the board’s total workforce strength of up to 82,000 workers.
The defence employees are to strike work, “as the said move [of converting the board into a government-owned corporate entity] has not been supported by sufficient materials to substantiate not only the so called lack of accountability, autonomy and efficiency in Ordnance Factories, but also violating the commitments given by the Government and Defence Ministers in the past in the various forums and also in the meeting held with Secretary (DP) on 23-8-2019,” according to the served notice”.
The notice is signed by the presidents of all three recognised defence workers’ unions, namely, All India Defence Employees’ Federation (AIDEF), Indian National Defence Workers’ Federation (INDWF), along with the RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Pratiraksha Mazdoor Sangh (BPMS). The Confederation of Defence Recognised Associations (CDRA), which represents service-level employees, have also extended its support to the industrial action, NewsClick has learnt.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced the corporatisation of OFB and its subsequent listing on the stock market earlier on May 16, as part of a series of major policy decisions introduced under the Centre’s Atma Nirbhar Bharat programme – which included structural reforms to encourage private sector participation into key industries.
The move was seen as a ‘betrayal’ by the workers’ bodies, which were assured by the Secretary of Defence Production (DP) that “no final decision” has been taken, following a strike which had lasted for almost a week last year in August.
Also read: OFB Corporatisation: Defence Federations Oppose, Warn of Ultimate Indefinite Strike
The unions have made 14 representations, including to the President and Prime Minister, to register their opposition ever since the corporatisation move was announced in May, in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic.
On Tuesday, demonstrations were held at the factory gates by the workers – who, with flags and banners in their hands, claimed an indefinite strike to be their last resort.
“This time, we don’t want any assurances but a categorical withdrawal of the corporatisation proposal,” said C Srikumar, general secretary, AIDEF, adding, “Despite of multiple meetings, our demands remain unconsidered.”
The employees’ opposition to the corporatisation of the OFB, as Srikumar explained, mainly stems out of the many concerns associated with leaving the factories to the vicissitudes of the profit-driven market, which may lead to a similar fate as that of other public sector undertakings including Bharatiya Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL).
The state-owned telecom company was incorporated in the year 2000, in a move that was flagged by its employees’ union then. Two decades later, BSNL is reeling under a financial crisis and any commitment by the Centre to revive it rings hollow to its employees now.
That is the very reason that the defence employees are opposed to corporatisation of OFB, Srikumar said. “The employees are not against bringing competitiveness and self reliance to ordnance factories. But any restructuring required to achieve that shouldn’t change the status of the organisation,” he added.
The defence employees demand to set up an expert committee for studying how to improve the efficiency and performance of the factories, but in the present setup itself.
Engaged in defence equipment production, including ammunition for the Indian army, the OFB currently operates as a government department under the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
Its corporatisation now, would lead to building grounds for its eventual privatisation later, Srikumar said.
Also read: OFB Corporatisation: Govt Sets up Committee, Workers Apprehensive of Terms of Reference