The three main federations of ordnance factory workers have complained to the Chief Labour Commissioner that their employer, the Department of Defence Production (DDP) of the Defence Ministry, is violating the conciliation settlement reached between them last October, when the federations had deferred their planned strike against corporatisation of the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB).
In spite of strong opposition from the three main worker federations, the Ministry of Defence is moving forward to convert the OFB into a 100 per cent government-owned corporate entity.
The three federations are — All India Defence Employees’ Federation (AIDEF) of Left unions; Bhartiya Pratiraksha Mazdoor Sangh (BPMS), an arm of RSS-affiliate Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh; and Indian National Defence Workers’ Federation (INDWF) of the Indian National Trade Union Congress.
The three federations had called for a nationwide strike on October 12 last year against the Centre’s move to corporatise OFB. However, the office of Chief Labour Commissioner (Central) had sought conciliation proceedings under provisions of Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, which were held three days before the proposed strike date. The strike was then deferred as the federations and representatives of the DDP reached an agreement which stated, “After prolonged discussions, it is agreed that since the matter is sensitive and requires discussions and deliberations at the highest level of government, therefore representative of Employer said that the meeting with Secretary, Defence Production and Empowered Group of Ministers can be arranged so the unions can put forward their issues and grievances pertaining to the disputes before them. Union representatives stated that till the pendency of conciliation proceedings in ongoing Industrial Disputes, no change should be made by the Employer. It is agreed by both the parties that in respect of strike demands, during the pendency of ongoing conciliation proceedings, the Employer will abide by the provisions of Industrial Disputes Act and Unions will not proceed with the proposed strike.”
In a complaint filed with the Chief Labour Commissioner on Wednesday, the Presidents and General Secretaries of these federations have said, “While the federations and the trade unions at the unit level are fully implementing the conciliation settlement, the DDP has started violating the settlement. The DDP issued a letter allowing the consultancy firms to proceed with its work for recommending the modalities for implementation of Corporatisation. The DDP has not maintained the status quo and has allowed the consultants to proceed with their visit to various Ordnance Factories and to submit their report.”
The complaint goes on to list various moves taken by the Defence Ministry towards corporatisation in the recent past, like, “On March 10, the MoD asked all the Ordnance Factories to give a detailed report about the land holding, surplus land, unutilised land to proceed with the Corporatisation move. On March 24, OFB issued instructions to all the GMs to provide various datas pertaining to the Ordnance Factory Schools with the intention of proceeding with the corporatisation decision.”
The complaint concludes, “From all the above developments it is amply clear that the…Department of Defence Production represented by the Secretary (Defence Production) has cheated the workmen and their Trade Unions and also has blatantly violated the conciliation settlement dated October 9, 2020 by ignoring provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act, which is binding on the DDP.”
The ordnance factories network comprises 41 factories divided into five operational divisions of the OFB and constitutes a defence production conglomerate with one of the widest range of products in the world.
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The government’s move to corporatise the OFB has been met with opposition from the federations of workers from these 41 ordnance factories and allied units across India. Their opposition has brought together an unlikely front of federations affiliated to the RSS, the Left and the Congress.
On Thursday, these federations further wrote to Jual Oram, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence, seeking appointment with the Committee to discuss the subjection of corporatisation and the views of the 80,000 ordnance factories workforce.
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