NEW DELHI: The Lok Sabha on Tuesday gave its go-ahead to the Essential Defence Services Bill-2021, which aims to prevent workers of the government-owned ordnance factories from going on strike against the corporatization of the units.

There are about 70,000 people working in 41 ordnance factories around the country.

The Bill, which was tabled in the Lok Sabha on Thursday, was passed amid protests by opposition members over various issues that led to the proceedings being adjourned for a third time till 4 pm, PTI said. The opposition was raising protests over a range of issues, including the hacking of phones of a cross section of politicians, journalists, civil society members and others as well the farm laws, PTI said.

The proposed legislation empowers the government to declare services mentioned in it as essential defence services—“the cessation of work of which would prejudicially affect the production of defence equipment or goods; or the operation or maintenance of any industrial establishment or unit engaged in production of goods or equipment required for any purpose connected with defence; or repair or maintenance of products connected with defence."

It also prohibits strike and lockouts in “any industrial establishment or unit engaged in essential defence services".

The action of "strike" is defined as “the cessation of work, go-slow, sit down, stay-in, token strike, sympathetic strike or mass casual leave, by a body of persons engaged in the essential defence services, acting in combination or a concerted refusal or a refusal under a common understanding of any number of persons who are or have been so engaged to continue to work or to accept employment," the Bill said.

It includes the “refusal to work overtime, where such work is necessary for the maintenance of the essential defence services; (and) any other conduct which is likely to result in, or results in, cessation or retardation or disruption of work in the essential defence services".

In June the cabinet headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi had given its approval for the corporatization of the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), under which the 41 factories producing ammunition and other equipment for the armed forces will become part of seven government-owned corporate units. The OFB was previously managed by the department of defence production and worked as an arm of the government. The aim of corporatization of the OFB was to improve the efficiency and accountability of 41 units, the government had then said. Defence minister Rajnath Singh had also assured the workers that their interests would be safeguarded.

But workers’ unions were not convinced by the assurances, media reports said.

The Bill itself mentioned the threat of a strike by workers’ unions in the section titled the “statement of objects and reasons".

“Against the said decision, the recognized federations of the employees gave a notice for an indefinite strike. The conciliation proceedings initiated by the Government at the level of Chief Labour Commissioner failed in the meeting held" on June 15…In spite of the Government's assurance to take care of the conditions of service of the employees of the Ordnance Factory Board, the recognized federations of the employees have reiterated their intention to go on indefinite strike from 26th July, 2021," it said.

“ Since, it is essential that an uninterrupted supply of ordnance items to the armed forces be maintained for the defence preparedness of the country and the ordnance factories continue to function without any disruption, especially in view of the prevailing situation on the northern front of the country, it was felt necessary that the government should have power to meet the emergency created by such attempts and ensure the maintenance of essential defence services in all establishments connected with defence, in public interest or interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India or security of any state or decency or morality," it said.