Recognised federations representing the defence civilian employees of ordnance factories across the country have begun preparations for an indefinite strike against the Centre’s corporatisation move. In a circular issued on June 1, “no positive response” from the Centre was cited as the reason behind the industrial action.
The statement was signed by the three recognised defence unions, namely, All India Defence Employees’ Federation (AIDEF), Indian National Defence Workers’ Federation (INDWF) and even the RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Pratiraksha Mazdoor Sangh (BPMS).
A strike ballot will be conducted between June 8 to June 17 to assess the mood of the defence civilian workforce, total strength of which numbers close to a lakh. At present, a substantial number of ordnance factories are operating with “100% strength”.
The decision to go for an indefinite strike comes after the “arbitrary” decision of the Narendra Modi – led central government to corporatise the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) – an umbrella body of 41 ordnance factories that currently operates as a government department under the Ministry of Defence (MoD). The factories are engaged in production of defence hardware and equipment for the Indian armed forces.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, on May 16, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced corporatisation of OFB and its listing on the stock market under the Centre’s Atma Nirbhar Bharat programme.
Also read: Corporatisation of Ordnance Factories Against Country’s Defence Preparedness: Unions
The workers’ federations fear this to be an non-viable decision considering the nature of work of the Ordnance Factories as a “reserve”. Moreover, the defence unions have also alleged that the announcements go against past assurances given by the Centre.
“The employees feel betrayed by such an unjustified decision,” said C Srikumar, general secretary of AIDEF, adding, “the Centre has taken advantage of the COVID situation in taking a decision that has been opposed by us.”
Last year, the defence employees had called for a month-long nationwide strike in August against the corporatisation proposals, which was then part of the Modi government’s 100 day economic reforms. The strike was called off after an assurance from the Secretary of Defence Production (DP) that “no final decision has been taken by the government” with regard to the corporatisation of OFB.
Subsequently in the following month, a High Level Official Committee (HLOC) was formed to safeguard the interests of employees “due to converting OFB into a public sector entity.”
Suggesting this to be a case of ‘bad faith’, Srikumar told NewsClick that the “damaging” terms of reference of the HLOC invited flak from the federations. The federations thus, have also refused to attend the HLOC meeting scheduled in the month of June this year by the MoD.
“It has already been conveyed to the defence officials that we [recognised federations] are not in agreement of converting OFB into a PSU. The Centre has been silent on that point,” Srikumar said.
With the Centre maintaining a conspicuous silence over the concerns raised, the employees are being forced to strike – this time for an indefinite period till the corporatisation decision is rolled back, he added.
Recent months saw ordnance factories also playing an important role in assisting the country in its battle against COVID-19, by manufacturing masks, and repairing ventilators among others.
Also read: Ordnance Board Cuts Salaries of Workers Who Observed Strike