July 11, 2021

Withdraw Draconian Ordinance Banning Strike by Defence Employees

ELAMARAM Kareem, Rajya Sabha member of the CPI(M) criticised the union government for issuing an ordinance banning the employees engaged in essential defence services from taking part in any agitation or strike. He said that the ordinance was passed in an attempt to thwart the indefinite strike by the employees of the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) on July 26.

He wrote to Rajnath Singh, the union defense minister on July 3, seeking withdrawal of the ordinance, and said that there is widespread protest from all sections of the society against this ordinance. He called it the most draconian legislation which India has witnessed after independence.

The Essential Defence Services Ordinance, 2021 which has come into force with effect from  June 30 prohibits strikes in essential defence services which includes defence production, repair and maintenance of products connected with defence.

Kareem pointed out that according to the ordinance, a strike in the defence sector is declared as illegal and it includes draconian provisions like dismissal from service without even an inquiry, arrest and imprisonment. In the name of instigation of strike, any person can be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years or with fine which may extend to Rs 15,000 or with both.

The CPI(M) MP noted that the ordinance gives power to any police officer to "arrest without warrant any person who is reasonably suspected to have committed any offence under this ordinance". It also takes away the legal rights of an employee to participate in a strike under the Industrial Dispute Act 1947.

Kareem, in his letter to the defense minister, said that the provisions of this ordinance are against the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions accepted by India and are violative of the labour laws in force.

It may be noted that the union government has come up with such an ordinance when the major federations affiliated with the 76,000 employees of the OFB have made an announcement that they would go on indefinite strike from July 26 in protest against the government’s decision to corporatise the OFB.

Kareem said that it is clear beyond doubt that this ordinance is primarily intended to suppress this indefinite strike announced by the OFB employees. “It is quite unfortunate that, instead of commencing dialogue with the federations for a negotiated settlement, the government has acted in a brutal manner by the deployment of State power against the employees,” he wrote in the letter to the minister.

The CPI(M) MP stressed that according to the constitution, the ordinance route should be used only in exceptional circumstances, when the parliament is not in session and there is an urgent need for legislation. But here the government has used this power of the executive only to threaten the OFB employees and other defence civilian employees from taking part in any protests or strikes.

Calling it an undemocratic and anti-constitutional decision of the union government, he urged the minister to urgently revisit this decision and withdraw the Essential Defence Services Ordinance, 2021 at the earliest.  Kareem also urged the minister to commence dialogue with the OFB employees on their demands and to step back from the decision to privatise the Ordnance Factories.