The five federations of defence employees, in a joint resolution passed on July 1, have decided to take appropriate legal actions and also to lodge complaint with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) against the Centre’s ordinance that allows the latter to prohibit agitation and strike action by those engaged in “essential defence services”.
They have also decided to observe July 8 as All India Black Day in all defence establishments across the country in protest.
“It is most unfortunate to note the manner in which the Government of India is treating its committed and devoted workforce by snatching away the legal right of the defence workers under the provisions of Trade Union Act 1926 and Industrial Dispute Act 1947,” the joint resolution dated July 1 said, while referring to the right to strike as being “an inalienable part of protest by the working people”.
A gazette notification titled ‘The Essential Defence Services Ordinance, 2021’, was promulgated by the President of India on Wednesday, empowering the Narendra Modi-led Union government to issue order for prohibiting strikes by employees involved in production of defence equipment, services and operation or maintenance of any industrial establishment connected with the military as well as those employed in repair and maintenance of defence products.
Also read: OFB: Ahead of Indefinite Strike, Centre Empowers Itself to Penalise Workers in ‘Essential Defence Services’
Wednesday’s notification came days after the announcement by the recognised defence federations of an indefinite strike in 41 ordnance factories across the country from July 26. The federations were prompted to announce strike action by the latest move of the Centre to dissolve the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) and replace it with seven government-owned corporate entities.
Engaged in defence equipment manufacturing, OFB, overseeing the functioning of ordnance factories, currently operates as a government department under the control of Department of Defence Production (DDP), which is administered by the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
The Modi government, by bringing the “draconian” ordinance that is on the lines of The Essential Services Maintenance Act, 1968, has “snatched away the constitutional, democratic and legal rights,” of the defence civilian employees, the federations said in a joint press statement on Friday.
Signatories to this press statement involved representatives from All India Defence Employees Federation (AIDEF), Indian National Defence Workers Federation (INDWF), RSS-backed Bharatiya Pratiraksha Mazdoor Sangh (BPMS), National Progressive Defence Employees Federation (NPDEF), and All India Bahujan Defence Employees Federation (AIBDEF).
Also read: Defence Civilian Employees Burn Govt’s Effigy in Protest Against OFB Corporatisation
“The [Thursday] meeting also decided to take appropriate legal actions and also to lodge complaint with the ILO,” the statement added.
As per the gazette notification, “Any person, who commences a strike which is illegal under this Ordinance or goes or remains on, or otherwise takes part in, any such strike, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine which may extend to Rs 10,000, or both.” It adds that those instigating others to take part in a strike declared as illegal under the ordinance, or provide financial aid to such actions, will be penalised too.
Alongside allowing for the usage of police force to ensure “functioning, safety or maintenance of the essential defence services”, the notification also empowers the management to dismiss an employee participating in the strike action without an enquiry.
Central Trade Unions Express Solidarity
Meanwhile, in a joint statement issued on Friday, the 10 central trade unions express solidarity with the defence civilian workers and urged the Centre to withdraw its latest ordinance. “The government in the most cowardly manner, instead of commencing dialogue with the federations for a negotiated settlement has acted in a draconian and brutal manner by deployment of state power against its own employees,” the statement, signed by the 10 CTUs said.
The 10 CTUs include the Indian National Trade Union Congress, All India Trade Union Congress, Hind Mazdoor Sabha, Centre of India Trade Union, All India United Trade Union Centre, Trade Union Coordination Centre, Self Employed Women’s Association, All India Central Council of Trade Unions, Labour Progressive Federation and United Trade Union Congress said.
In a letter addressed to PM Modi on Friday, the Rashtriya Swayamseval Sangh-backed Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), too, recorded its protest against Wednesday’s ordinance, saying it is in “total disregard to the best democratic norms”.