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Right to strike is being criminalised, Ordnance workers body tells Delhi HC

Our Bureau New Delhi | Updated on September 17, 2021

Federation challenges the constitutionality of Essential Defence Services Act

The Delhi High Court on Thursday issued notices to the Centre on a petition challenging the constitutionality of the Essential Defence Services Act, 2021 which prohibits strikes in essential defence services.

Issuing the notices, a division bench comprising Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Amit Bansal observed that the petitioner, All India Defence Employees Federation, cannot press for the “old concept of strikes”.

“If the desire of the people is that you don’t go on strike, who is the petitioner to say in spite of the desire of the people, of Parliament, I will go on strike even though I am an essential service. People are bound to challenge when you bring a change. You (Centre) file your reply. We will decide,” said the Court, posting the matter for November 16.

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The petitioners, a national federation of over 400 registered trade unions representing 76,000 employees in 41 ordnance factories across India, argued that the recently passed statute is violative of fundamental rights under Article 14 (right to equality), Article 19 (right to freedom of expression), Article 21 (right to life and liberty) and Article 311 relating to the dismissal of a government employee. Besides, the petitioners contended, the right to strike has been recognised as a statutory right in industrial jurisprudence over centuries of struggle that culminated in eight-hour work day, minimum wage and similar service conditions.

The petitioners said that not only does the new enactment over-ride the Industrial Disputes Act, it criminalises peaceful modes of protest and strike.

“The impugned Act goes on to give unbridled powers to declare any establishment as “essential defence service” and prohibit any kind of participation or support of strikes therein with stringent criminal consequences and jail terms without the generally available constitutional procedural safeguards by making the offences cognizable and non-bailable and mandating a summary trial,” said the petition.

Published on September 16, 2021

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