Weeks after the Centre decided to dissolve the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) and replace it with seven government-owned corporate entities, defence employees have decided to voice their opposition by going on an indefinite strike – a similar decision was deferred last year.
The indefinite strike in the 41 ordnance factories – all of which the OFB oversees – across the country will begin from July 26. A consensus on the matter was reached between the recognised defence federations and others in an “extended meeting” held on Sunday.
A strike notice, mandated as per law, will be served to the concerned authorities on July 8. The entire workforce of the ordnance factories – nearly 80,000 employees – and the four lakh defence civilian employees rejected the Centre’s decision, the three recognised federations – All India Defence Employees’ Federation (AIDEF), Indian National Defence Workers’ Federation (INDWF), and the RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Pratiraksha Mazdoor Sangh (BPMS) – had earlier said in a joint statement.
“In an extended meeting held yesterday, it was decided that we (defence employees) will submit the strike notice to the government on July 8 and will go on an indefinite strike from July 26,” C. Srikumar, general secretary, AIDEF, told Newsclick over the phone on Monday.
The Union Cabinet had earlier this month approved a plan to corporatise the 246-year-old OFB, an umbrella body that oversees the 41 ordnance factories across the country. As per the cabinet decision, the board will now be converted into seven new Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs).
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).
Its corporatisation was listed as one of the 167 “transformative ideas” to be implemented in the first 100 days of the Narendra Modi-led government's second term back in 2019. A decision was finally taken by the Cabinet Committee on Security in July 2020 on it in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Back then, in October, defence employees had submitted a notice for an indefinite strike to press for the withdrawal of the same. The strike action was however deferred after the Chief Labour Commissioner's (CLC) intervention in the matter. A conciliation settlement was reached then, which was followed with talks between federations and the Department of Defence Production (DDP).
A day ahead of the latest Centre’s decision to dissolve the OFB, the CLC however, filed a “failure report,” in what prompted the defence federations to accuse the apex organisation in the country, that is tasked with maintaining harmonious industrial relations, of being “biased”.
“After the decision was taken, we again approached the Defence Minister [Rajnath Singh] through a letter which recorded our concerns regarding the Centre’s move. However, we haven’t received any response yet,” Srikumar said on Monday.
He added that the federations were confident of a “successful” indefinite strike action, as the prevailing situation is nothing short of a “do or die” one for the defence employees at ordnance factories.
Support Pours In From Other Central Government Employees
As agitated employees at ordnance factories prepare for strike action against the Modi government’s decision, the defence federations have secured solidarity from other sections of central government employees.
In a meeting convened on Saturday, June 26, with the Cabinet Secretary, the Staff Side of the National Council – Joint Consultative Machinery (JCM) for central government employees conveyed their disappointment over the “arbitrary” decision of the Centre to go ahead with the corporatisation of the OFB. The Cabinet Secretary is the Chairman of the said council.
“…we feel that the Government has taken this decision without considering the importance of Ordnance Factories to remain in the Government due to various strategic reasons such as to maintain war reserve / spare capacity to meet any emergent situation during war and peace time, fluctuation of workload, single based customer etc.,” the Staff Side, which represents 32 lakh central government employees in the Railways, Postal and Income Tax departments among others, said in a letter.
They demanded that Prime Minister Modi “reconsider” and “withdraw” the contentious decision.
Meanwhile, central trade unions, including the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) and All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), have also come out in support of the defence employees, flaying the Modi government for its “ill-conceived” and “destructive” decision.