Even as peasants continue their agitation against the farm laws, trade unions have now red-flagged another attempt at reform by the Modi government.
The unions allege that The Essential Defence Services Ordinance (EDSO) 2021 has been promulgated to keep them from going on an indefinite strike from July 26 against corporatisation.
Stating that this involves the safety and security of the country, Binoy Kumar Sinha, general secretary of the RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), called upon citizens to join a mass movement if the government does not consult workers.
The BMS considers itself an apolitical organisation and claims to be the largest trade union in India.
Five federations of the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) had earlier decided to observe Thursday, July 8, as “Black Day” and serve the notice on striking work. They had decided to approach a court of law and also go to International Labour Organization (ILO).
The strike was called against the Centre’s decision to corporatise the OFB.
On the issue of corporatisation, the Centre had laid out the policy direction for the public sector in Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s Budget speech in February this year.
In an annexure to Budget 2021-22, it was mentioned that “In strategic sectors, there will be a bare minimum presence of the public sector enterprises. The remaining CPSEs (Central Government Public Sector Enterprises) in the strategic sector will be privatised or merged or subsidiarized with other CPSEs or closed”.
The strategic sectors classified in the document included Defence, Atomic energy, Space among many others.
The trade unions say that EDSO renders strikes in the Defence sector illegal and can attract dismissal from service without inquiry, arrest, or imprisonment.
An umbrella of Central Trade Unions too had issued a statement calling upon the “entire working class of the country to stand up and protest against this unprecedented action of the Modi Government and leaving to the mercy of the Government the status of the 76,000 employees of the 41 Ordnance Factories who were recruited as Defence Civilian Employees/Central Government Employees under Article 309 of the Constitution of India”.
Calling the Ordinance “most draconian law which post-Independence has witnessed in this country”, the statement alleges “the strike in Defence (sector) is declared as illegal and includes draconian provisions like dismissal from service without even an inquiry, arrest and imprisonment for a term which may be extended to one year or with fine which may extend to 10,000 Rupees or with both”.
It further stated that “In the name of instigation of a strike any person shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 2 years or with fine which may extend to 15,000 Rupees or with both”.
The BMS general secretary added, “The government may want to address certain issues. In that case, it should take stakeholders into confidence and hold a discussion. Such unilateral decision amounts to oppression.”
According to Sinha, some of its advisers are trying to malign the government and paint it as incapable of running the country. He advised the government not to take advantage of its sheer majority to suppress their voice.
“Right to association and right to protest are among our fundamental rights. The government should not have promulgated such an act. In our opinion such a step goes against the spirit of democracy,” said Sinha.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, the BMS general secretary said that promulgation of the Ordinance imposes “severe restrictions on the genuine democratic rights of workmen and Trade Unions to protest”.
The letter says that “corporatisation of the Ordnance Factories is a thorny issue and it has been repeatedly brought to the notice of the Government to enter into talks with the Trade Union Federations to sort out the issue amicably. However, in total disregard to the best democratic norms, perhaps a section of bureaucrats resorted to the shortcut of curtailing the rights of the workmen by the promulgation of the said ordinance”.
The BMS has asked the Prime Minister to “review” and “arrange to issue necessary directives so as to ensure that the genuine democratic rights of the workmen to protest are restored”, with a request for an “early action”.
Rajya Sabha Member representing the Communist Party of India, Binoy Viswam, has also written to the Prime Minister urging him to roll back EDSO 2021.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) Rajya Sabha MP, Elamaram Kareem, in a letter to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, too demanded immediate withdrawal of the Ordinance. He called EDSO undemocratic and anti-constitutional.