RESPONDING TO a notice of a strike by three major workers’ federations in August against corporatisation of Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), the Ministry of Defence (MoD), in a letter to these federations, has termed the strike “invalid and illegal” on various grounds. The ministry has warned that “pre-emptive and appropriate remedial action” will be taken if the strike is not withdrawn.
The federations have said they were firm about their stand on going on a countrywide strike from October 12. The three major recognised federations of the defence manufacturing trade unions from 41 ordnance factories and other units of OFB in India have been opposing the corporatisation of OFB.
The decision to go on an indefinite strike from October 12 was announced following a strike ballot in June. The three federations, All India Defence Employees’ Federation (AIDEF) of the Left unions; Bhartiya Pratiraksha Mazdoor Sangh (BPMS), an arm of RSS-affiliate Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh; and Indian National Defence Workers’ Federation (INDWF), affiliated to Indian National Trade Union Congress, represent around 85 per cent workers across OFB units and had served a joint strike notice to the chief labour commissioner and other concerned establishments on August 4.
The Department of Defence Production of the MoD, in a letter to the three federations issued two days ago, has said, “It is unfortunate that the notice has been issued by relying on ‘assumptions and apprehensions’ that are devoid of any actual, proper or factual reasons. It appears that ‘reservations’ are being unilaterally expressed towards the corporatisation of the OFB that is somehow being assumed to cause ‘adverse effects’ to the status of the employees working in the ordnance factories.”
The letter from the ministry also includes many points pointing to various “procedural defects” saying the notice has not been issued in the prescribed format ‘Form L’ as mandated under the Industrial Disputes Act for the issuance of ‘strike notice’. It says the notice does not mention names of the five elected representatives of the three labour federations and does not have a copy of the resolution evidencing that signatories of the strike notice were duly elected.
The letter also says the notice merely mentions the “demands” and does not detail the reasons for calling an ‘indefinite strike, which is mandatory.
The letter states that while these procedural defects make the notice “invalid”, what makes it “illegal” is the fact that there are ongoing “conciliation proceedings” facilitated by the office of chief labour commissioner, and that the representatives of the federations have taken part in these talks.
The letter also says, “Even though the ‘strike’ notice was already untenable under law due to the fact that the notice did not conform to the requirements mandated under Form L, now, the strike called by the notice is also effectively ‘illegal’ due to the ongoing conciliation proceedings. Given the aforementioned aspects, you are required to confirm the unconditional withdrawal of the notice as well as the indefinite strike in writing no later than seven days of receipt of this response. In the event the written confirmation is not received within seven days, the Department of Defence Production would be constrained to take pre-emptive and appropriate remedial action.”
Office-bearers of the three federations have told The Indian Express that they were firm about their stand to go ahead with the strike, and also said they would soon be giving a detailed reply to the MoD.
Mukesh Singh, general secretary of BPMS, said, “The BPMS rejects the communication (letter) because we have given the strike based on the MoD format. We are firm on the strike against corporatisation in accordance with our constitutional right.”
The government has decided to convert OFB, a subordinate office of the MoD at present, into one or more than one 100 per cent government-owned corporate entities and has appointed a consultant for this process of corporatisation.
Federations have also said corporate entities would not be able to survive the unique market environment of defence products that has unstable demand and supply dynamics.
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