A protest by OFB workers in Pune in August

From August 20, close to 80,000 workers from 41 ordnance factories across the country have protested the proposed restructuring of the OFB

Days after the Ministry of Defence (MoD) formed a High Level Official Committee (HLOC) to consult with defence workers’ federations on the issue of corporatisation of the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), the three key workers’ bodies have unanimously opposed the terms of reference given to the HLOC and took a stand that there will be no discussion on the proposed restructuring.

From August 20, close to 80,000 workers from 41 ordnance factories across the country have protested the proposed restructuring of the OFB. However, the strike, which was to stretch over a month, was deferred in a week after defence ministry officials assured that the decision on corporatisation was still not final and workers’ interests will be safeguarded.

The three defence workers’ bodies, who called the strike, were Bharatiya Pratiraksha Mazdoor Sangh (BPMS), an arm of the RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh; All India Defence Employees’ Federation (AIDEF), affiliated to the CPM’s Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU); and the Indian National Defence Workers’ Federation (INDWF) of the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC).


Why Workers Are Opposing Corporatisation

Opposing the proposed corporatisation, the federations have argued that public sector model will not be successful for the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) due to its multi technology and multi product nature with drastic fluctuations in orders from the armed forces and the need to maintain a war reserve. The government’s argument is that corporatisation will increase the efficiency of the ordnance factories, make their product cost-competitive and result in quality enhancement. Senior military and defence ministry officials have said the monopoly situation had resulted in a lack of innovation, low productivity, high cost of production and a complete overhaul was the need of the hour.

The first meeting of the HLOC with representatives of the workers’ bodies was scheduled for Monday afternoon. The HLOC’s formation was notified by the defence ministry on September 24.

On Monday morning, key office-bearers of all three federations and the Confederation of the Defence Recognised Associations (CDRA) met and issued a joint press statement. “After discussion, it was unanimously decided to oppose and protest the terms of reference as it is against the assurance given by secretary, defence production, saying government had not taken any decision to corporatise the OFB. The terms of the reference give an indication that government has already decided to corporatise the ordnance factories.”

In the afternoon meeting with the HLOC, the three federations and the CDRA voiced their concerns and said in a submitted note that they were prepared to discuss terms of reference except the first one on the proposed restructuring.

The first term of reference as per the MoD note was, “To work out ways to safeguard the interests of employees in terms of wages, health facilities and other service matters due to converting the OFB into a public sector entity.”

The other terms were to assess the requirement of budgetary support for salaries of employees of the OFB; to assess concerns regarding future orders to the proposed new entity in view of difficulties being faced in current set up; to workout the road map for increasing the turnover of the new entity from the present turnover of Rs 30,000 crore; and to assess the viability of some of the factories as public sector entities.

Mukesh Singh, general secretary of the BPMS, said, “After patiently listening to representations of the federations, the HLOC chairman stated that while there was no final decision to restructure the OFB so far, he will convey the position of the federations and the CDRA to the higher authorities in the government.”