Results of an employees referendum, conducted this month in 41 ordnance factories across the country, highlight that the long-held position of the recognised defence federations on the Centre’s move to corporatise Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) stands vindicated: that the recent decision hasn’t gone down well with the overwhelming majority of defence employees.
Released on Wednesday, the results show that out of 61,564 defence employees who had participated in the referendum, over 99% of them voted against the corporatisation of the OFB. The total manpower strength of the defence employees countrywide is over 75,000.
The referendum was held from September 13 to September 25 under the guidance of the two recognised defence federations – All India Defence Employees Federation (AIDEF) and the RSS-backed Bharatiya Pratiraksha Mazdoor Sangh (BPMS) – along with the Confederation of Defence Recognised Federation (CDRA).
The referendum results were released a day after the Defence Ministry issued an order for the dissolution of the OFB, with effect from October 1, into seven newly constituted Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs).
“From the outcome of the referendum, it is amply clear that the ill-advised move,” of the Narendra Modi–led Central Government, “does not have the mandate of the major stakeholders of the Ordnance Factories, i.e. the employees who have overwhelmingly rejected the same,” the defence federations on Wednesday said, in a letter addressed to Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.
The protesting federations added that “under these circumstances,” the Centre must consider the sentiments expressed by the defence employees, “in the overall interest of the Nation and its security in this unpredictable situation in our borders.”
Engaged in defence equipment manufacturing, the 246-year-old OFB is an umbrella body that currently operates as a government department under the control of the Department of Defence Production (DDP), which is administered by the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
On Tuesday, the MoD, issuing an order in line with the Cabinet’s decision in June this year, announced that, with effect from October 1, the management, control, operations and maintenance of the 41 ordnance factories under the OFB will be transferred to the seven DPSUs – Munitions India Limited, Armoured Vehicles Nigam Limited, Advanced Weapons and Equipment India Limited, Troop Comforts Limited, Yantra India Limited, India Optel Limited, and Gliders India Limited.
“This is a unilateral decision taken by the Narendra Modi government which has been rejected by the defence employees,” C Srikumar, general secretary, AIDEF told Newsclick on Thursday. In protest, the defence employees across the country will observe October 1 as Black Day and will boycott their lunch, he added.
To be sure, the recognised defence employees federations have been up in arms against the Narendra Modi government ever since corporatisation of the OFB was listed as one of the “transformative ideas” to be implemented in the first 100 days of the second tenure of the BJP government at Centre in 2019.
In July this year, they had also given a call to stage an indefinite strike, however, it was soon followed by the Centre empowering itself to penalise the striking workers – with the introduction of The Essential Defence Services Ordinance (EDSO), 2021– in essential defence services. The ordinance was replaced by a Bill – Essential Defence Services Act (EDSA), 2021 – during the recently concluded monsoon session of the Parliament.
“The government took away the right to strike from us by bringing a draconian law. However, we will not stop our struggle,” claimed Srikumar on Thursday. He pointed out that the employees’ federations seek to continue their battle against the OFB corporatisation by taking a “legal route”.
Newsclick has earlier reported on the petitions filed by the AIDEF against the corporatisation of OFB and EDSA 2021 in the Madras High Court and Delhi High Court respectively. In both cases, the Centre has been asked by the respective courts to file a counter submission.
Meanwhile, Mukesh Singh, general secretary of BPMS, told NewsClick on Thursday that his union is planning to move Supreme Court against the Centre’s recent order to dissolve OFB. “The defence employees, being government employees, will never break any rules or will take action that is illegal. However, the fight against the dismantling of OFB is our collective struggle and it will continue even in the days to come,” he said.