Defence employees unions jointly have called upon the workforce in Ordnance factories to be prepared for indefinite strike and other trade union action in the coming days to fight against the “arbitrary, illegal and unjustified decision of the government to corporatise Ordnance factories and increase the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) limits in the defence sector”.
On May 16, while announcing the fourth round of stimulus measures under the Atma Nirbhar Bharat Nirman Package to deal with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown, Union Minister of Finance and Corporate Affairs Nirmala Sitharaman announced that the government is going ahead with corporatisation of the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) and easing of FDI limits from existing 49% to 74% under the automatic route, but with conditional security clearances. She also said that the OFB factories will be listed in the stock markets in the future.
The move is against the idea of making India Atma Nirbhar or self reliant, says C Srikumar, general secretary of All India Defence Employees Federation (AIDEF). “Corporatisation of the 219 years old ODF is against the interest of defence preparedness of the country. For the last 20 years, successive governments have attempted for ODF privatisation, but with the resistance struggles of the employees and unions, three union ministers had given written assurance against the privatisation,” Srikumar told NewsClick. He added that a major section of employees of ODF have produced over 20,000 personal protective equipment (PPEs), lakhs of masks, sanitisers and other testing equipment for the needs of the country during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Instead of appreciating the work of public sector ODF during the crisis, the government is mulling over its corporatisation, risking the handover of 50,000 acres of land owned by ODF and machinery worth thousands of crores to the hands of private players,” he further said.
AIDEF, Indian National Defence Workers Federation (INDWF) and Bharatiya Pratiraksha Mazdoor Sangh (BPMS) have jointly called upon the workers in the defence sector to prepare for an indefinite strike and other action plans by the trade unions in the future in opposition against the government’s plans towards privatisation.
Last year, defence employees’ unions had called for a month long strike against the government plans of privatisation of ODF. At that time, the government officials constituted a high level committee on the issue which even consulted with union leaders but its report has not been made public.
Several other trade unions including the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) and All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) have condemned the COVID-19 stimulus package announced by the Finance Minister. Calling upon the workers to unite against the government’s privatisation drive, CITU stated that desperate auctioneering of country’s strategic industrial units in defence production, coal and bauxite mining, aviation sector, electricity, space and atomic energy, and other national assets and resources in favour of private and foreign players are severely detrimental to national interests.
On the other side, despite a two-month lockdown to contain the pandemic, the number of COVID-19 positive cases and death due to the disease have been exponentially rising. As of 4 PM on May 18, the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases was reported as 96,398 and the death toll stood at 3,041.