Expressing concerns over the threat of coronavirus spread, the three key federations of Defence industrial employees who represent the workforce from the ordnance and ammunition factories, ordnance depots and base workshops — collectively called the ‘War Reserve’ of the country — have written to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to suspend work for a definite period, especially in the establishments in or near COVID-19 affected areas.
Meanwhile, the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) on Friday night announced the directives of the Department of Personnel and Training of the Union Government deployment of upto 50 per cent of the workforce will be applied for ordnance factories too. However, office bearers of the three federations of Defence industrial employees have said earlier that considering a very large number of workers being present in small units or workshops, complete stoppage of the work at least till March 31 was necessary. Federations have also sought extensions in the deadlines to meet the year-end targets of production.
A major chunk of the weapons, ammunition and supplies for not just armed forces but also paramilitary and police forces comes from the factories run by the Ordnance Factories Board which is a body under the MoD. Their products include civilian and military grade arms and ammunition, explosives, propellants and chemicals for missiles systems, military vehicles, armoured vehicles, optical devices, parachutes, support equipment, troop clothing and general stores items.
The network of OFB’s 41 ordnance and ammunition 41 factories is supported by nine training centres, three marketing centres and four safety controller units, employs around 1.3 lakh people including 82,000 factory workers. In addition to this, civilian workers are employed at ordnance depots which store the manufactured items and spares and at the base workshops which are involved.
Letters in this regard have been written to the MoD by three workers’ federations — Bhartiya 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.
BMPS General Secretary Mukesh Singh in his letter to Secretary Defence Production, said, “Defence Industrial employees who work under the most vulnerable conditions have high exposure to this threat and may prove the biggest instrument of spreading this virus as they work in the workshops or places at a very short distance, come to work from different locations of the city, share same wash basins, bathrooms, toilets, machines. tools etc. It would be prudent for MoD to consider shutting down, for at least two weeks, factories, industrial organisations, defence installations, especially in the affected regions.”
A separate letter has also been written to the MoD by Pune officer bearer of BPMS Sanjay Menkudale, highlighting the need to shut down three ordnance factories in Pune. considering the highest prevalence of COVID-19 positive patients in Pune and PCMC in Maharashtra. The three factories in Pune — Ammunition Factory Khadki, High Explosives Factory and Ordnance Factory Dehu Road employ around 10,000 workers.
Speaking to Express, C Srikumar of the AIDEF said, “While demanding stoppage of work, we have also asked the MoD to consider extending the deadlines to meet production targets of the financial year-end. Also, if work is stopped, there will have to be some decision on the payment of wages for this period. In many of the cases, workers come to factories in buses or local trains, thus making them very vulnerable.”
The order issued by the OFB to the General Managers of the Ordnance factories late on Friday night, read, “Factory and units heads may carry out the deployment of employees keeping in view location consideration and exigencies of work, within the limit of 50 per cent. The instructions shall not apply to employees in essential services as required in prevailing conditions.”
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