Three key unions of defence manufacturing workers have appealed to the government to put on hold the decision to corporatise Ordnance Factories and hold discussions with them. They have warned of indefinite strike otherwise. The unions have called the government decision “a breach of trust and back-stabbing”.
In the fourth tranche of the Atmanirbhar Bharat initiative, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has announced corporatisation of Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) for improving autonomy, accountability and efficiency in Ordnance Suppliers and raising Foreign Direct Investment limit in defence manufacturing under automatic route from 49 per cent to 74 per cent, as part of ‘self-reliance in defence production’. The three key unions, which are affiliates of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Congress and the Left, have unanimously opposed these decisions.
The general secretaries of the Bharatiya Pratiraksha Mazdoor Sangh (BPMS), an arm of RSS affiliate Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, All India Defence Employees’ Federation (AIDEF) affiliated to the CPM’s CITU and the Indian National Defence Workers’ Federation (INDWF) of the Congress’s INTUC on Sunday issued a joint letter to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh with a copy to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sitharaman. The three unions together represent over 80 per cent of the workforce.
The letter says, “We fail to understand how the corporatisation of Ordnance Factories has become a part of the Covid-19 relief package. … you will appreciate that there are written agreements in the past with the recognised employees federations and government of India that Ordnance Factories will not be corporatised. All these agreements are being totally ignored and blatantly violated.”
Referring to a strike call issued last year against the proposal, letter further says, “The negotiations with the federations on a strike notice were pending with the government in the democratic set-up. But by ignoring the concerned trade unions, government has arbitrarily decided conversion of Ordnance Factories, the oldest industrial set-up in our country, and listing it on the share market. This is not at all acceptable. We find it hard to believe how the government can take advantage of the Covid-19 lockdown situation and in the name of giving economic relief to the affected people, make a policy announcement to convert a government department into a corporation and changing the service conditions of the 82,000 employees. This is nothing but a breach of trust and back-stabbing. Your decision is arbitrary, illegal, unfair, undemocratic and unjustified.”
The letter concluded, “The 82,000 workforce of the Indian Ordnance Factories outrightly rejects the decision and makes an appeal to put on hold this decision of corporatisation of Ordnance Factories and to start discussions with the federations after normalcy is restored in the country. In case the government is not conceding to our request then the 82,000 employees will be left with no other option than to commence an indefinite strike apart from other trade union actions.”
It needs to be underlined that the warning of the strike comes at a time when many ordnance factories across India are slated to resume production in the coming days as per the directives and restriction of the local authorities and state government orders. The main production activities in 41 ordnance factories across India were suspended from the last week of March following the national lockdown. However, in following days many factories started producing safety utilities like hand sanitisers, PPE kits and other Covid relief items and only those sections of the ordnance factories have been operational.
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