The Essential Defence Services Bill seeks wider scope to crack down on workers’ strike

P Manoj Mumbai | Updated on July 22, 2021

‘No sector can go for strike for the genuine issue of workers if this Bill is passed’

The Centre will be able to crack down on employees strike in “any industrial establishment or unit engaged in essential defence services” such as major port or dock and not just in the Ordnance Factories, according to The Essential Defence Services Bill, 2021 to be introduced in the on-going monsoon session of Parliament.

The Bill seeks to replace the Essential Defence Services Ordinance, 2021 promulgated on June 30, 2021 that seeks to empower the Central Government to prohibit strike in essential defence services.

The Ordinance was issued to check employees of the Ordnance Factory Board from launching an indefinite strike from July 26, 2021, protesting the government’s decision to convert the Ordnance Factory Board into seven Defence Public Sector Undertakings.

The Essential Defence Services Bill is not just restricted to employees of the Ordnance Factories but gives sweeping powers to the government to prohibit strike in any industrial unit engaged in essential defence services.

To give effect to this, the proposed law seeks to override the powers of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.

“The provisions of this Act and of any order issued thereunder shall have effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith contained in the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, or in any other law for the time being in force,” according to Section 16 of the Bill.

The Bill also seeks to amend clause (n), sub-clause (ia) in Section 2 of the Industrial Disputes Act by replacing the words “or dock” with the words “or dock or any industrial establishment or unit engaged in essential defence services”.

The sub-clause (ia) refers to “any service in, or in connection with the working of, any major port or dock”.

The clause (n) in Section 2 of the Industrial Disputes Act defines public utility service such as railways, major port or dock, postal, telegraph, telephone, any industry which supplies power, light or water to the public.

The Bill seeks to provide for disciplinary action, including dismissal, against employees participating in strike and provide penalties for illegal strikes, instigation thereof and providing for financial aid to such illegal strikes.

It seeks to confer power on any police officer to arrest without warrant any person who is reasonably suspected to have committed any offence under the proposed legislation.

The Bill has attracted the ire of the trade unions.

“In the pretext of bringing the Bill to prevent strikes in Ordnance Factories, the Central government is trying to bring other essential and public utility services also under its ambit, thereby curtailing the right of workers to go on strike for their genuine demands,” said T Narendra Rao, General Secretary of the Water Transport Workers’ Federation of India, one of the recognised unions at Centre-owned major port trusts.

“It is undemocratic, arbitrary and illegal. In future, no sector can go for strike for the genuine issue of workers if this Bill is passed,” he added.

Published on July 22, 2021

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