4-Lakh Defence Employees Boycott Lunch, Plan Massive Strike in January
- Four lakh defence employees working with 41 ordnance factories, naval docks, army and air force workshops and other productions units are readying themselves for a massive three-day protest in January
- Their major issue is with the Centre’s policies pushing privatisation of defence production, which they argue is detrimental for the country’s defence forces
Four lakh defence employees working with 41 ordnance factories, naval docks, army and air force workshops and other productions units that form the backbone of the armed forces’ are readying themselves for a massive three-day protest in January between 23 and 25. And, as a token gesture, they boycotted lunch on Tuesday.
This is not the first time the workers, backed by more than one employees’ federation are striking work in the past three years with multiple protests having been carried out against the policies of the Centre.
Predominantly, their major issue with the Centre’s policies pushing privatisation of defence production, which they argue is detrimental for the country’s defence forces. “Today we just gave up lunch, but the government has been proactive and if the same continues we are planning a massive protest in January that will see all naval docks stop work, and the situation will be the same at the army and air force workshops for three days,” All India Defence Employees’ Federation (AIDEF) general secretary C Srikumar told TOI.
The disruption in work, he says is always the last resort of the employees who understand how critical their contribution is to the armed forces. “However, when the government is taking away our jobs and handing keys to strategic areas to the private sector, there is nothing else we can think of to get the government’s attention,” another union leader working with the Director General of Quality Assurance (DGQA) said.
The Centre, as part of its policy has been progressively enhancing opportunities for the private sector. Among policy decisions that have impacted the public sector in defence are: Declaring more than 200 defence items as non-core that allows defence forces to procure them directly from the market; mandating PSUs and ordnance factories to give out at least 25% of their work order to private firms and so on.
The ministry of defence (MoD) has also finalised the ‘strategic partnership’ policy that will see increased private participation in defence manufacturing even as other policies like privatising quality assurance and letting private firms run army workshops are in the pipeline.
The protests come after multiple attempts by the trade unions to garner the Centre’s attention. “It is not that they have not met us. But in every meeting we are assured of positive things, but what’s happening on ground is different,” Srikumar says.
In the past the unions have written letters against privatisation to the defence minister—both Nirmala Sitharaman and her predecessor Arun Jaitley—secretary (defence production), BJP national president Amit Shah, and former Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
“The Centre did not take us into confidence before taking such an important decision on privatisation. We are not just concerned about thousands of jobs that will be lost in the coming years, but also about the strategic issues,” Srikumar adds.
Senior defence officials that TOI spoke with, however, argue that such turmoil is expected and say that increased private participation is the way forward.
A brigadier, who did not want to be named, also said that the ordnance factories and other defence establishments have for long not been too efficient, while an air marshal said: “The government must not expect results too quickly. This should not become like an election slogan. These protests will eventually fizzle out as it is unlikely to change the Centre’s resolve.”