Government uses Covid to push proposals in negotiations: defense employees

BENGALURU: A day after Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced reforms in the defense sector as part of the Center's aid package for Covid-19, about 4 lakh of civil defense employees working across the country They have threatened a massive protest against the corporatization of the Artillery Factory Board (OFB)) and other decisions made in recent weeks.

Unions representing about 4 lakh defense employees have called the government's move to propose OFB's corporatization, among other things, as bad faith decisions. Claiming that the government is using the Covid situation — lockdown and restrictions — to push through several decisions that the employees are still negotiating, they say that they will even break lockdown norms and hit the streets if the government goes through without consultations.

The OFB employs more than 80,000 workers, including those who are represented by the unions calling for the protest. In August 2019, these workers announced a month-long strike, which finally ended a week after the Center promised to hold consultation meetings.

With ordnance production dipping significantly, the ministry of defence constituted a high level committee for consultations. However, so far, the panel has held only two meetings as there were differences about the terms of references. The workers have been opposed to coporatisation of OFB, with even some senior level officers having written to the government about the same.

Now, months after the committee was unable to hold meetings, the Center suddenly announces corporatization. We will send a notice to the ministry by letter to the defense minister Rajnath Singh . If the government doesn’t respond positively, we will go on an indefinite strike,” an office bearer of the All India Defence Employees Federation (AIDEF) said.

Confirming this, C Srikumar, general secretary, AIDEF told TOI that the government is misusing an emergency situation. “When most Central government employees work from home, our workers have risked their lives and produced lakhs of masks, coveralls, sanitizer bottles among other things and supplied it to the government . The government , which should be thanking us, is instead trying to sneak in policies when the country is focussed on Covid. We will not take this lying down,” he said.

The workers also expressed discontent over the defence minister’s approval to abolish about 9,000 posts at the military engineer service (MES), which was done in the first week of May. Aside from this, the Centre has also floated a tender inviting interested private firms to take over the running of Workshop-505 in Delhi under the GOCO ( government owned corporate operated) model.

TOI was the first to report on the corporatization of the OFB and GOCO model. They are announcing one move after another without holding any consultation with us, including what is being represented to the defense minister through our letter, Srikumar added.