Reply to plea against ban on strikes: court
The Delhi High Court on Thursday asked the Centre to respond to a petition challenging its power to prohibit strikes in essential defence services and the imposition of stringent criminal consequences under the Essential Defence Services Act, 2021.
A Bench of Chief Justice D.N. Patel and Justice Amit Bansal asked the Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Law and Justice to give their stand on the plea, which has challenged the constitutional validity of several provisions of the Essential Defence Services Act, 2021 which came into effect from June 30, 2021.
Essential defence services include any service or establishment dealing with production of goods or equipment required for defence-related purposes. As per the petition, there are 41 ordnance factories where approximately 76,000 employees are working.
All India Defence Employees Federation, a national federation of more than 400 registered unions, in its plea, stated that in May 2019 the Centre introduced a hundred-days agenda that included corporatisation of ordnance factories.
Against this move, the federation and two other recognised federations, issued a notice to strike to the Central government under the Industrial Disputes Act. The strike was put on hold as a settlement process was being discussed with the government.
Later, on June 21 this year, the federation received a communication from the Defence Ministry that the ordnance factories would be corporatised and splintered into seven corporations.
Before the federation could announce or issue a strike notice against this move, an ordinance was passed prohibiting strikes in ‘essential defence services’. On August 11, 2021, the ordinance was replaced by the Essential Defence Service Act, 2021.
The federation challenged the Act on the ground that it gives “unbridled power” to the authorities to declare any establishment as “essential defence services” and to prohibit any kind of participation and support of strikes.
Senior advocate Sanjay Parikh, representing the federation, argued that the right to demonstrate as well as the right to strike is an important weapon in the armoury of the workers.
The High Court, however, observed that the federation cannot press for the continuance of the “old concept of strike in essential services” in view of a new statute.
“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,” the Bench remarked. It posted the case for further hearing on November 16.