The Lok Sabha on 3-8-2021 passed a Bill that permits the Government of India to prohibit strikes in units engaged in Defence Services. The Essential Defence Services Bill-2021 was Introduced in Lok Sabha on 22nd July, to replace the Ordinance promulgated by the President on the 30th June. Viewers of www.indianpsu.com are well aware of the fact that the entire civilian workforce of Defence Industry under the Government of India has rejected the unilateral decision taken by the Narendra Modi Government to splinter the 41 Ordnance Factories into 7 Corporations.
The Unions were preparing for an indefinite strike against the Government decision since the Chief Labour Commissioner declared the conciliation proceedings as a failed one. The Government to prohibit the strike promulgated the EDSO-2021 Ordinance on the 30th of June 2021. Immediately after this, all the Central Trade Unions including the RSS affiliated BMS and the left affiliated AITUC, CITU and HMS also vehemently opposed the Ordinance and demanded for its withdrawal.
An all India protest day was also observed on 23rd July, 2021. A complaint to ILO was also lodged by the AITUC & CITU which has been now referred to the Government by ILO.
In this situation more than 25 MP’s gave notice to the Speaker, rejecting the Bill and demanding for discussions. However, since the opposition parties were protesting against the Pegasus snooping and demanding for an inquiry by a Joint Parliamentary Committee, Government took advantage of the pandemonium of the house and passed the Bill without any discussion.
While replying to the objections raised by the opposition MP’s, Raksha Mantri Rajnath Singh, made a statement in the house that, “he has taken all the Unions into confidence before moving this Bill in the Parliament”. This has created an impression that the Defence Employees Union have agreed for passing this draconian Act in the Parliament.
www.indianpsu.com – contacted C. Srikumar, General Secretary AIDEF, for his reaction on the statement made by the Defence Minister on the floor of the House. An irate C. Srikumar responded “this type of a false statement was not expected from a political leader like Rajnath Singh. He should now clarify that which union has agreed to him for passing the Bill in the Parliament. On 16-6-2021 when the Federations met him we have categorically told him that we reject the EDSO-2021 Ordinance and we demanded that the same should be withdrawn and it should not be converted into an Act through the Parliament. This statement of ours is recorded. After this, which Union leader met him and gave his consent for passing this draconian bill in the Parliament? The Defence Minister has to clarify to the people of this country”.
He further added, in any case the Defence Employees are not going to tolerate this injustice meted out to them. The workers are the producers of wealth. They supply labour without which capital would be impotent and they are at the least equal partners with capital in the enterprise. Our constitution has soon profound concerned for the workers and given them a pride of place in the new socio-economic order envisaged in the preamble and the directive principles of state policy. This is not my statement. This is what Supreme court has told. The Supreme Court has further told in another case that “ Strike is a recognized weapon of the workmen to be resorted to by them for asserting their bargaining power and for tacking of their collective demands upon an unwilling employer”.
Right to strike is integral of collective bargaining and to confirm this right the Supreme Court has further observed that “The broad basis is that workers are weaker although they are the producers and their struggle to better their lot has the sanction of the rule of law. Unions and strikers are no more conspiracies then professions and political parties are, and being for weaker, need to succor. Part IV of the Constitution read with Article 19, sows the needs of this burgeoning jurisprudence.” C. Srikumar said that this is a draconian law which is against the constitutional provisions. Voice of the working class cannot be stopped through these type of draconian laws. Strike action of the workers evolved over centuries due to the miserable conditions and exploitation of labour and the right to strike is a human right.
Moreover, it is a fundamental right under Article 19 of the Constitution. ILO conventions recognized the right to strike has a fundamental right. The Government may argue that it has not so far ratified ILO conventions No.87 of 1948 and convention No. 98 of 1949. But as a founder member of the ILO these conventions are morally binding on the Government of India. One should not forget even today India is a “Soverign, socialist secular democratic republic”.
It is the duty of the Government to establish an egalitarian social order. The Government is duty bound to recognize the right of collective bargaining to the Defence civilian employees. Striking work is a means by which the workers expresses their protest, negotiations with powerful managements and majoritarian and authoritarian Governments and bargains with them. Therefore, till the present Government recognize this right of the Defence Civilian Employees, they will continue to fight in all forums to establish their legal democratic and fundamental rights which they have earned through relentless struggles and sacrifices. At any cost, these rights will neither be surrendered nor sacrificed. The fight against the retrograde and draconian EDSA-2021 will continue with more vigor throughout the country.
Views expressed here are those of C. Srikumar, General Secretary of All India Defence Employees Federation (AIDEF)