Ordnance factory staff to go on month-long strike to protest privatisation
Three national-level trade unions of employees and workers of 41 Indian ordnance factories under the Kolkata-headquartered Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) have announced that they will go on a month-long strike from August 20 in protest against the Centre’s likely decision to corporatise and privatise all units.
The 41 units employ more than 1,00,000 people. Some of the oldest units, such as Rifle Factory Ishapore, the sole maker of rifles for the armed forces, are located near Kolkata.
The move comes a week after the matter came up for discussion at a high-level meeting called by the Centre in Delhi. Top OFB officials who are aware of the development but did not want to be named said no formal notice or order has been issued by the Centre but matter was discussed at the highest level on July 18. OFB chairman Saurabh Kumar was present at the meeting.
On Friday, OFB’s deputy director general Niraj Kela wrote to the heads of all ordnance factories to ensure that the strike does not affect smooth running of the units.
In a circular to OFB, the unions described the strike as ‘first phase’ of the movement and demanded withdrawal of the government’s decision. The three unions are All India Defence Employees’ Federation (AIDEF), Indian National Defence Workers’ Federation (INDWF) and Bhartiya Pratiraksha Mazdoor Sangh (BPMS). The last one is affiliated to the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, the labour wing of Rashtriya Shayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The three unions will be joined by Confederation of Defence Recognised Associations.
“These factories are the backbone of our armed forces. They cannot be treated like tea-stalls,” said Ashok Singh, president, INDWF.
Ever since the Centre enforced Arms Rules 2016, which introduced new laws to facilitate production of weapons by private players in collaboration with foreign partners, a large section of officials and staff in the state-owned ordnance factories were apprehending a similar move to streamline the OFB units. Some major units, including Rifle Factory Ishapore, are located in Bengal. The workers’ unions have staged agitation in many cities, demanding state support.
On July 23, Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi not to corporatise and privatise ordnance factories.