Over 7,000 workers from three defence manufacturing units in Pune will participate in a nationwide month-long strike of ordnance workers from Tuesday against the proposed “corporatisation” of the factories.
Almost all civilian workers from the Ammunition Factory, Khadki, High Explosives Factory and Ordnance Factory, Dehu Road, affiliated to three major unions — All India Defence Employees’ Federation (AIDEF), Indian National Defence Workers’ Federation (INDWF) and Bhartiya Pratiraksha Mazdoor Sangh (BPMS) — will join the strike. Some key organisations of officers from the ordnance factories have declared their moral support to the strike.
In a letter to Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, the general secretaries of the three unions said, “The fact is that the future life of more than 82,000 employees and their family members will be ruined in case Ordnance Factories become a corporation or PSU. Out of the 82,000 employees, more than 44,000 are recruited after January 2004 and at the age group of 25 to 40 years. They have all joined the Ordnance Factories with lot of aspiration and expectations. Their pension right is already taken away since they are governed under the no guarantee NPS Pension Scheme. They have planned their life requirement based on the present income, which they are getting as wages from the Ordnance Factories. All these will be completely disturbed and destroyed for no fault of theirs. All of them, including the young talented officers and workers, are worried about their future, which has now become uncertain. Therefore, in the interest of national security and achieving self reliance in defence, the decision of corporatisation of OFB (Ordnance Factory Board) may be withdrawn.”
A ‘strike ballot’ for this month-long strike was conducted in the last week of July and over 75 per cent of workers voted in favour of the strike, after which all three organisations decided to go on strike. In Pune’s three factories, all the staff except the Fire Brigade, medical staff and essential maintenance staff, will join the strike, thus bringing the entire production to a halt.
The letter also stated, “For the past 218 years, the ordnance factories have been kept as a departmental organisation… considering the special nature of defence Industry like volatility, non-uniform demand from Armed Forces and Paramilitary forces, uneconomic quantities to be produced to meet strategic needs etc, which a public sector or corporation will not be able to manage. Ordnance factories are the fourth force of the defence of our country and to be treated as ‘war reserve’, at par with the armed forces to maintain idle capacities to take care of a surge in demand in emergent war situation. In a purely commercial term, maintaining idle capacity would be detrimental to the business interest of the corporation / PSU. Therefore, ordnance factories should continue as a Departmental Organisation.”
The National Defence Group ‘B’ Gazetted Officer Association of the Ordnance Factories has also declared its moral support to the strike. An officer from the organisation said, “The defence equipment or ammunition are the assets for any country and compulsion to make profit may become a barrier while defending the nation. If ordnance factories are made to compete with private players, the forces may face difficulties for purchasing low-value or non-profitable weapons and ammunition. Also, the compromise in quality and vested interests in purchasing the defective ones may become the business practice.”
An office-bearer of an union participating in the strike said, “The Ministry of Defence, in a letter to all the factory heads, has warned about invoking the Essential Services Management Act and said that the strike may be deemed illegal if the Act is invoked. On the one hand, the government is going for corporatisation and on the other hand, threatening to invoke ESMA. All the organisations will go ahead with the strike.”