Ordnance workers' 1-month strike begins

Photo for representation.

Thousands of ordnance factory employees went on a month-long strike from Tuesday protesting against the government move to corporatise these factories, claiming that this will eventually lead to privatisation of the facilities leading to hardship for workers.

The trade unions claimed defence production has been "scaled down to zero" in 41 ordnance factories across the country and strike was "total success".

The strike started as the government could not reach an agreement with the trade unions, including All India Defence Employees' Federation (AIDEF), Indian National Defence Workers' Federation (INDWF) and Bharatiya Pratiraksha Mazdoor Sangh (BPMS). Another round of talks will be held on Wednesday.

In a statement, the CITU said the ordnance factories are considered as the fourth force of defence and it was "ironic" that the Narendra Modi-led BJP, which campaigned on the plank of nationalism has "no qualms in placing national security at the mercy of the profit greedy corporates including foreign companies by privatising" the defence sector.

It said successive government, including the first Modi government, had taken a stand not to corporatise the ordnance factories but the new Modi dispensation has decided to corporatise it on way to their future privatisation.

The Ministry of Defence on Tuesday issued a statement clarifiying that there is no proposal to privatise the ordnance factories and said the strike was "unprecedented, especially when Government has already agreed to their demand to hold discussions" at the Ministry level.

In a joint statement, AIDEF, INDWF and BPMS said around 82,000 workers and another 40,000 contract employees were on strike, which started at 6 AM on Tuesday, in protest against the government's "arbitrary" move to corporatise the ordnance factories.

It said ordnance factories being war reserve and solely depend on armed forces, it cannot function as a commercially viable Public Sector Unit and Defence Ministers George Fernandes, Pranab Mukherjee, A K Antony and Manohar Parrikar had rejected recommendations to change the character of these factories.

"This move (to corporatise) will lead to privatisation...Moreover, 82,000 central government employees working as defence civilian employees will lose their status and they will become employees of a corporation, thereby depriving them of various benefits available to them," it said. 

The trade unions said only Group A officers and those in essential duties, who were exempted from the strike, joined work and many of them were working without signing the attendance register.

The Confederation of Defence Recognised Associations (CDRA), which has not served a strike notice, is also supporting the striking employees, they said. 

"Rumours being spread that OFB (Ordnance Factory Board) is being privatised are misguiding and with the intent to mislead the workers. Corporatisation of OFB will bring OFB at par with other DPSUs of MoD.  This is in the interest of OFB as it will provide operational freedom and flexibility to OFB which it presently lacks," the Ministry of Defence statement said.

In a separate statement, Ordinance Factory Board Chairman Saurabh Kumar said the proposed corporatisation is aimed at providing "greater flexibility" in day-to-day functioning, increased operational freedom and autonomy in decision making leading to enhanced productivity.

"This will enable the Ordnance Factories to respond faster to the futuristic needs of the armed forces and provide an impetus to the export potential of its products," it said. 

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