The Lok Sabha passed the Essential Defence Services Bill, 2021 on Tuesday amid protests by Opposition members over various issues that led to the proceedings being repeatedly adjourned throughout the day.
The Essential Defence Services Bill, 2021, seeks to replace the ordinance promulgated in June 2021 and allows the Central Government to prohibit strikes, lock-outs, and lay-offs in units engaged in essential defence services.
It was introduced in Lok Sabha by defence minister Rajnath Singh on 22 July, 2021.
What are essential defence services?
The essential defence services include:
- Any establishment or undertaking dealing with the production of goods or equipment required for defence-related purposes
- Any establishment of the armed forces or connected with them or defence. These also include services that, if ceased, would affect the safety of the establishment engaged in such services or its employees.
- In addition, the government may declare any service as an essential defence service if its cessation would affect the: (i) production of defence equipment or goods, (ii) operation or maintenance of industrial establishments or units engaged in such production, or (iii) repair or maintenance of products connected with defence.
What happens if there are strikes, lock-outs and lay-offs
The new Bill allows the Central Government to prohibit strikes, lock-outs, and lay-offs in units engaged in essential defence services as per PRS Legislative Research. The government may issue such order if necessary in the interest of:
- Sovereignty and integrity of India
- Security of any state
- Public order
The prohibition order will remain in force for six months and may be extended by another six months.
Strikes and lock-outs that are declared after the issue of the prohibition order or those that had commenced before the prohibition order was issued will be illegal. The prohibition will not apply to lay-offs made due to power shortage or natural calamity, or lay-offs of temporary or casual workmen.
Under the new Bill, a strike is defined as cessation of work by a body of persons acting together. It includes the following under its purview:
- Mass casual leave
- Coordinated refusal of any number of persons to continue to work or accept employment
- Refusal to work overtime, where such work is necessary for the maintenance of essential defence services
- Any other conduct which results in, or is likely to result in, disruption of work in essential defence services.
The new Bill also amends the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 to include essential defence services under public utility services. Under the Act, in the case of public utility services, a six-week notice must be given before:
- Persons employed in such services go on strike in breach of contract
- Employers carrying on such services do lock-outs.
What is the punishment for illegal lock-outs and lay-offs?
Employers violating the prohibition order through illegal lock-outs or lay-offs will be punished with up to one-year imprisonment or Rs 10,000 fine or both.
What is the punishment for illegal strikes?
- Persons initiating or participating in illegal strikes will be punished with up to one-year imprisonment or Rs 10,000 fine or both.
- Persons instigating, inciting, or taking actions to continue illegal strikes, or knowingly supplying money for such purposes, will be punished with up to two years imprisonment or Rs 15,000 fine, or both.
- Such an employee will be liable to disciplinary action including dismissal as per the terms and conditions of his service. In such cases, the concerned authority is allowed to dismiss or remove the employee without any inquiry, if it is not reasonably practicable to hold such inquiry.
- All offences punishable under the Bill will be cognisable and non-bailable.
Who will the Essential Defence Services Bill, 2021 affect?
The Essential Defence Services Bill, 2021 has a direct bearing on around 70,000 employees of the 41 ordnance factories around the country, who are unhappy with the corporatisation of OFB, fearing that it will impact their service and retirement conditions.
In June, the government announced the corporatisation of the Ordnance Factory Board which was otherwise directly under the Department of Defence Production and worked as an arm of the government.
As per the new plan, 41 ordnance factories that make ammunition and other equipment for the armed forces will become part of seven government-owned corporate entities. The government has claimed that the move is aimed at improving the efficiency and accountability of these factories but the employees in these factories are unhappy with the development and have threatened indefinite strikes.