The four lakh defence civilian employees in India are set to go on a call attention strike and one hour work boycott on 15 March 2018, demanding that the government fulfil their longstanding demands include rolling back defence privatisation.
The defence employees have been pointing out for long that several decisions taken by the central government in the recent years are detrimental to national security.
The protest action is part of the agitational programme jointly decided upon by the three recognised federations of defence employees’ unions – the All India Defence Employees Federation (AIDEF), Indian National Defence Workers Federation (INDWF), and the Bharatiya Pratiraksha Mazdoor Sangh (BPMS).
The concerns raised by the defence employees include the decision by the government to declare almost 250 items manufactured by the Ordnance Factories as "non-core" and to outsource the production of those items to the private sector.
According to the employees, whenever procurement of such items were done from outside in the name of “low technology”, inadequate supply and poor quality of the items supplied have resulted.
The decision of the government is in violation of the commitments given by the Ministry of Defence in the past, the employees say.
The government has also issued an order to grant uniform allowances to soldiers instead of providing stitched uniforms. This would be counter-productive, and would threaten the future and existence of 5 OEF (Ordnance Equipment Factory) group of factories with almost 10,000 employees, including 2000 women employees, according to the defence employees.
C Srikumar, the General Secretary of the AIDEF and a former employee of the Ordnance Clothing Factory at Avadi, wrote a letter to the Defence Minister on 26 February in this regard.
"The fluctuating demands of the Armed Forces and sometimes the limited requirements will not induce the private sector to dedicate their Unit's capacity for the Armed Forces,” Srikumar said in the letter.
“… the private industries may be in a position to supply cheaper clothing items because of the low wages they pay to the employees and various concessions they obtain from the government and also using low cost and substandard raw materials. Being a model employer, the government cannot be a party to the exploitation of labour on the basis of low wages, denying even the legally enforced minimum wages and other facilities to the unorganised workers. Compromising on the quality of the uniforms cannot be accepted as a matter of policy and practice by the government.”
“It is also a matter of fact that on many occasions, the Indian Army has purchased dresses and uniforms from private sources and the poor quality of those items are attributed to the Ordnance Factories without any basis.”
“The organisational base of the OEF group of factories provides and facilitates effective control over specification, quality of basic material and end products, since the dress and uniforms of the armed forces are of special nature and special purpose like strategic combat army logo uniform, extreme climate dresses, tents, parachutes, blankets, boots etc. This would be difficult to enforce on small/private units scattered all over the country.”
While there would be an initial price advantage if the armed forces enter into contracts with private players for the uniforms, once the Ordnance Factories stop the production of uniforms, the private sector would increase prices, Srikumar pointed out.
The government has also decided to hand over the operation of the Army Base Workshops (ABWs) to the private sector, under the GOCO (Government-Owned, Contracted-Operated) model.
The Army Base Workshops carry out work that is crucial to the armed forces – they repair tanks, army vehicle engines, small arms, mortars, communication systems, radars, optical equipment, power equipment, air defence weapons systems, soldier weapon systems, gun and specialist vehicles and so on.
The workshops are located in Delhi, Jabalpur (Madhya Pradesh), Kankinara (West Bengal), Allahabad (UP), Meerut (UP), Kirkee, Pune (Maharashtra) and Bengaluru.
The handing over of such national assets to private corporates would adversely affect the operational preparedness of the armed forces and put their combat capability at risk, defence employees say.
The government has also decided to close down 14 Station Workshops, 39 Military Farms, and four depots under the Director General of Ordnance Services (DGOS).
The unions have been demanding the withdrawal of several decisions and practices that will result in job losses. These include the decision to declare 31,012 employees of Army Units, including 9,300 employees of the Military Engineer Services (MES) as surplus, and the outsourcing of permanent and perennial jobs in defence establishments.
Demands also include filling up of all the posts lying vacant in the defence establishments.
According to the action programme announced by the unions, the defence civilian employees of the five OEF group of factories, 8 Army Base Workshops, 14 Station Workshops, Military Engineer Services under Engineer-in-Chief, four depots under DGOS and 39 Military Farms under the Quarter Master General (QMG) will observe a one-day "Call Attention Strike" on 15 March 2018.
The defence civilian employees of other establishments would observe one hour "work boycott" by holding a demonstration for one hour during the morning mustering hours on the same day.