Over 70,000 employees of 41 Ordnance factories under the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) of the defence ministry will go on indefinite strike from October 12 to protest against the government plans to corporatise OFB.
The strike call has been jointly given by three recognised trade unions in OFB - Bharatiya Pratiraksha Mazdoor Sangh (BPMS), All India Defence Employees' Federation (AIDEF) and the Indian National Defence Workers' Federation (INDWF). While BPMS is an affiliate of the RSS, the ideological parent of ruling party BJP, AIDEF is affiliated to the Left and INDWF to Indian National Congress.
R Srinivasan, general secretary of INDWF said the strike notice was given six weeks in advance to comply with the government rules. According to him, the trade unions had given a similar call for strike on August 23 last year, but was deferred after the Defence Ministry said that the government had taken no such decision to corporatise OFB. He said that post deferment, the government had appointed a high-level committee (HLC) to suggest ways to overhaul the operations of OFB. However unions had to oppose the setting up of the committee too after one of the terms of references given to the Committee was corporatisation of OFB. "We said if the government wants ordnance factories production capacity to be enhanced, quality and efficiency and technological development, they can appoint a high-level committee and study, we will agree to that. But we don't agree for corporations as that is not the only way for enhancement of capacity. So the HLC did not meet."
The trigger for the current round of agitation came after Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman included corporatisation of OFB as part of the structural reforms announced to kickstart the economy on May 16. Enhancing the need for self-reliance in defence production, the minister said the autonomy, accountability and efficiency in ordnance supplies will be improved through the corporatisation of OFB.
Srinivasan said that after the minister's announcement, the three labour unions had written against it to the defence secretary, defence minister, prime minister, chief of defence staff, ordnance factory board chairman, among others. "In response, the defence ministry said the government is considering appointing a cabinet sub-committee to look into the matter. But here again, corporatisation was included in the proposed sub-committee's terms of reference. That is when we said if the government is sticking to its corporatisation agenda, we are not agreeing to that proposal and will go ahead with our protest," he said.
The three demands put forth by the labour unions are no corporatisation, the expert committee to look only into matters relating to strengthening the capacity and technological capabilities of factories, and protection of job and service conditions of existing employees.
The deputy chief labour commissioner is trying hard to avert the strike. Two meetings have already been held on September 15 and September 25. The labour unions say that unless the government sets aside its plans to corporatise OFB, there is no possibility of an agreement before October 12.