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us unionise! : Trade Unions
Topics to be covered: • • • • • • • • • • • Introduction Definitions Features Objectives Functions Employers’ point of view: Criticism of trade unions Motivation to join unions Structure Problems and weaknesses Suggestions for healthy growth of unionism Article: “Indian Trade Unions: Today and Beyond” By: Ernesto Noronha
Hello Students! Today we will be discussing Trade unions and their role. We will also be discussing the problems and weaknesses and of course, how to overcome those weaknesses. Let us begin discussing the nature and functions of trade unions. What is your idea of a Union? We have discussed this term before, in the introductory lessons of Industrial Relations! It is indeed the collection of workers that is formed for demanding its rights and overall welfare. We will be discussing the definition. Let us begin by discussing the nature of Trade unions. Nature and functions of Trade Unions Trade union movement is an offshoot of industrialisation. The growth of modern industrial organisations involving use of modern technology and employment of workers has been followed by growth of trade unions throughout the world. The workers feel threatened and I am sure you will agree that whenever there is some fear or threat, one comes closer. That applies to the Unions as well. The workers have the fear of being obsolete because of the increased use of technology. They form themselves into groups and feel that they can then not only overcome that fear but also fight better for their welfare.
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This phenomenon has not only been observed in advanced countries of the world, but also in the developing economies like India. The emergence of trade unionism is spontaneous and inherent in the growth of capitalism. The origin of trade unionism lies in the industrial revolution, which disrupted the older way of life and created a new society forged by the shop, the factory, the mine and the industry. Please note that wherever a union exists, top management cannot take unilateral decisions. Management has to consult the union representatives while taking various decisions affecting labour such as wages, lay-off, transfer, discharge, etc. A trade union puts restriction on the discretion of employers for taking decisions involving welfare of employees. In certain organisations, unions have become so strong that they affect every aspect of management. Now let us discuss the definition. Definition of Trade Union Section 2(h) of the Trade Unions Act, 1926 has defined a trade union as “Any combination, whether temporary or permanent, formed primarily for the purpose of regulating the relations between workmen and employers, or between workmen and workmen, or between employers and employers, or for imposing restrictive conditions on the conduct of any trade or business, and includes any federation of two or more trade unions.” This definition is very exhaustive as it includes associations of both the workers and employers and the federations of their associations. I hope you are not confused! Let me make this definition simpler for you. In this definition the relationships that have been talked about are both temporary and permanent. Please note that it applies to temporary workers as well. Then this definition talks about three relationships. They are relationship between the: Workmen and workmen Workmen and employers Employers and employers. Yes please don’t be surprised; it includes the relationship between the employers and the employers as well! Let us look at another definition by Dale Yoder.
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Dale Yoder has defined trade union as a continuing long – term association of employees formed and maintained for the specific purpose of advancing and protecting the interests of members in their working relationships. He quotes: “A trade union is a continuous association of workers which is formed with the purpose of protecting the interests of workers.” Now that is simple and sweet, sweet in the sense it is easy to understand. Let us see another one! According to Flippo “A labour union or trade union is an organisation of workers formed to promote, protect, and improve, through collective action, the social, economic, and political interests of its members”. I hope you have understood that…….. If you haven’t, analysing this definition we can draw the features of trade Unions: Features of trade unions: I. It is an organisation formed by employees or workers. II. It is formed on a continuous basis. It is a permanent body and not a casual or temporary one. III. It is formed to protect and promote all kinds of interests –economic, political and social-of its members. The dominant interest with which a union is concerned is, however, economic. IV. It includes federations of trade unions also. V. It achieves its objectives through collective action and group effort. Having understood the features let us come on to the next topic for today and that is objectives of Trade Unions that is why do workers organise themselves into unions? Objectives of Trade Union Workers organise themselves in the form of a union to achieve the following goals: a) To improve the economic lot of employees by securing for them better wages. b) To secure better working conditions for the workers. c) To secure bonus for the employees from the profit of the concern,
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d) To resist schemes of the management which reduce employment, e.g., rationalisation and automation. e) To secure welfare of employees through group schemes which give benefit to every employee. f) To protect the interests of employees by taking active participation in the management. g) To secure social welfare of the employees. h) To secure organisational stability, growth, and leadership. Now let me ask you that what do you unionise for. What is it that you form group or a team to ask for things from your parents? I am sure you must be conniving with your brothers and sisters to blackmail your parents!! Come on, you can share it with me, I will not tell them anyway!! Please understand that things could get nasty at times with the unions. Now what do I mean by that! Let us study the functions of the Trade unions and you will understand that better. Functions of Trade Unions Broadly speaking, trade unions perform two types of functions, viz., (i) Militant functions (ii) Fraternal functions, Militant Functions. One set of activities performed by trade unions leads to the betterment of the position of their members in relation to their employment. The aim of such activities is to ensure adequate wages, secure better conditions of work and employment, get better treatment from employers, etc. When the unions fail to accomplish these aims by the method of collective bargaining and negotiations, they adopt an approach and put up a fight with the management in the form of so-slow, strike, boycott, gherao, etc. Hence, these functions of the trade unions are known as militant or fighting functions. The second one is the fraternal function. Can you guess what could it mean? Or rather where has it been derived from? You guessed it right! Maternal and………fraternal that is fatherly role. Fraternal Functions. Another set of activities performed by trade unions aims at rendering help to its members in times of need, and improving their efficiency. Trade
unions try to foster a spirit of cooperation and promote friendly relations and diffuse education and culture among their members. They also arrange for legal assistance to its members, if necessary. Besides, these, they undertake many welfare measures for their members, e.g., school for the education of children, library, reading-rooms, in-door and out-door games, and other recreational facilities. Some trade unions even undertake publication of some magazine or journal. These activities, which may be called fraternal functions, depend on the availability of funds, which the unions raise by subscription from members and donations from outsiders, and also on their competent and enlightened leadership. Now that is like good fathers! Another broad classification of the functions of unions may be as follows: (a) Intra-mural activities (b) Extra-mural activities (c) Political activities. Intra-mural activities. These consist of those functions of the unions that lead to the betterment of employment conditions such as ensuring adequate wages and salaries, etc. for which the methods adopted may be collective bargaining, negotiations, strikes, etc. Extra-mural activities. These activities help the employees to maintain and improve their efficiency or productivity, e.g., measures intended to foster a spirit of cooperation, promote friendly relations, and diffuse education among members and various other types of welfare measures. Political activities. Modern trade unions also take up political activities to achieve their objectives. Such activities may be related to the formation of a political party or those reflecting an attempt to seek influence on public policy relating to matters connected with the interests of working class. Let us now see things from another perspective that is the perspective of the employer. The management may disregard the Union because of various reasons. These reasons could be as follows: Criticism of Trade Unions by the Employers The employers have subjected trade unions to severe criticism. Some of the charges are as under:
I. Lack of education makes the workers narrow-minded, and prevents them from taking long-term views. Thus, anything, which does not result in an immediate reward, becomes unattractive to them. This attitude is responsible for many strikes and lock-outs in industrial concerns. I am sure you will agree with that one. II. Trade unions may not welcome rationalisation and improved methods of production for the fear that some of the workers will be put out of work. Therefore, they resort to go slow policy that retards industrial progress. III. When labour unions strike because of illogical grounds, incalculable losses occur to producers, community and the nation. These are harmful to the workers also. They suffer because of the loss of wages. IV. They create artificial scarcity of labour by demanding that only union personnel should be employed. Now that is not a good practice!! V. By undue insistence on the payment of standard rates of wages, they have only leveled down the earnings of the efficient workers. Coming on to the next topic that is what motivated the workers to join the Unions. Motivation to join unions Why do Workers Join Unions? Since human behaviour is goal directed, the employees will join a union if some of their wants can be fulfilled by membership in a union. The important forces that make the employees join a union are as follows: I. Greater Bargaining Power. The individual employee possesses very little bargaining power as compared to that of his employer. If he is not satisfied with the wage and other conditions of employment, he can leave the job. But I am sure that you will agree, it is not practicable to continually resign from one job after another when he is dissatisfied. This imposes a great financial and emotional burden upon the worker. The better course for him is to join a union that can take concerted action against the employer. The threat or actuality of a strike by a union is a powerful tool that often causes the employer to accept the demands of the workers for better conditions of employment. Union is strength after all! II. Make their Voices Heard. The desire for self-expression is a fundamental human drive for most people. Don’t you agree with that? All of us wish to
share our feelings, ideas and opinions with others. Similarly the workers also want the management to listen to them. A trade union provides such a forum where the feelings, ideas and opinions of the workers could be discussed. It can also transmit the feelings, ideas, opinions and complaints of the workers to the management. The collective voice of the workers is heard by the management and give due consideration while taking policy decisions by the management. III. Minimise Discrimination. The decisions regarding pay, work, transfer, promotion, etc. are highly subjective in nature. I may rate you very differently as compared to your marketing teacher! Similarly the personal relationships existing between the supervisor and each of his subordinates may influence the management. Thus, there are chances of favouritisms and discriminations. A trade union can compel the management to formulate personnel policies that press for equality of treatment to the workers. All the labour decisions of the management are under close scrutiny of the labour union. This has the effect of minimising favouritism and discrimination. IV. Sense of Security. The employees may join the unions because of their belief that it is an effective way to secure adequate protection from various types of hazards and income insecurity such as accident, injury, illness, unemployment, etc. The trade union secure retirement benefits of the workers and compel the management to invest in welfare services for the benefit of the workers. V. Sense of Participation. The employees can participate in management of matters affecting their interests only if they join trade unions. They can influence the decisions that are taken as a result of collective bargaining between the union and the management. I hope you have not forgotten Collective bargaining! VI. Sense of Belongingness. Many employees join a union because their coworkers are the members of the union. At times, an employee joins a union under group pressure; if he does not, he often has a very difficult time at work. On the other hand, those who are members of a union feel that they gain respect in the eyes of their fellow workers. They can also discuss their problem with’ the trade union leaders. And now the next topic for the day!
Structure of Trade Unions: The structure of unions refers to the basis on which unions are organised (i.e., whether they are organised on craft or industrial or general union basis) and to the pattern whereby the plant unions are linked to regional level or national level federations or unions. Let us examine these two aspects one by one: Unions in India are largely organised by industry rather than craft. Although industrial unionism has been the general trend, craft unions have also emerged here and there; primarily, they exist among non-manual workers like administrative staff, professionals, technicians, etc. Ahmedabad Textile Labour Association is the sole example of craft union of manual workers. Another aspect of the structure of unions in India relates to their pattern of relationship between national level, regional level, local level and plant level unions. Let us see how they are related in India. I. Plant level Unions: The first level in the structure from below is the plant level union. This comprises the unions in one organisation or factory. Please note that only seven members are required to form a union. This has lead to multiple unions in one factory. (We will discuss the details of this aspect in the problems faced by unions in India). II. Local Level federations. This is the second level in the structure from below. The local trade union federation holds together the plant level unions at the local level in a particular craft and industry. These local level federations might be affiliated to either some regional level or national level federation or these may be independent. III. Regional level federations. These are the organisations of all the constituent unions in a particular state or region. The importance of such federations cannot be exaggerated. In a country like India, conditions vary form region to region. The style of living, languages, customs, traditions, conditions, etc. are different. Therefore, it is better that workers are organised at regional or state level. These regional federations may have members of two kinds: (1) The plant ‘level unions affiliating themselves to these directly and (2) The local federations.
In the second case, plant level unions become the members of regional federation indirectly through the local federations. It may be noted that the regional federations may be independent or they may get affiliated to some national federation. IV. National federations. These are national level bodies to which plant level unions, local unions or regional level unions may get affiliated. These are the apex bodies at the top of the structure. They act as coordinating bodies. These national federations may have their own regional or state level coordinating bodies to which the plant level unions may get affiliated. Let us summarise the levels in a diagrammatic form. National Level Federations
Regional Level Federations
Local Level Federations
Plant Level Federations Let us learn something about the central level organisations. Four important central organisations of workers in India are 1. The Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC). The Congress Party and the top congress leaders formed the INTUC like Nehru and Patel were associated with it. Every union affiliated to INTUC has to submit its dispute to arbitration after exhausting other means of settlement of disputes.
2. The All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC). This union serves as the labour forum of Communist Party of India at present. It is considered as the second largest union in India. 3. The Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS). It was formed in Calcutta by the socialists who neither approved INTUC nor AITUC. The HMS was organised with a view to keeping its members free from any political or other outside interference. 4. The United Trade Union Congress (UTUC). Those persons who were dissident socialist formed it. It functions mainly in Kerala and West Bengal. 5. Centre for Indian Trade Unions (CITU). The Marxists separated from the AITUC in May 1970 and formed the CITU. In addition to the above, there are four other central trade union organisations. They are: • • • • Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) National Labour Organisation (NLO) National Front of Indian Trade Unions (NFITU) Trade Union Congress Committee (TUCC).
Please don’t get confused with the names. Have you ever wondered that what could be the problems faced by the Unions! If not, let us examine them one by one. Problems and weaknesses of trade unions The problems and weaknesses of trade unionism in India are as follows: I. Uneven Growth. The trade unionism in India is characterised by uneven growth, both industry-wise and area-wise. Trade unions are popular in big industries and the degree of unionisation varies widely from industry to industry. Besides, trade union activities are concentrated in a few states and in bigger industrial centers mainly due to concentration of industries in those places. II. Limited Membership. The number of trade unions in India has increased considerably. But this has been followed by the declining membership per union. This is due to the reason that any seven workers any form a union under the Trade Unions Act, 1926 and get it registered. Secondly, the rivalry among the leaders of
trade unions has resulted in multiplicity of unions, thereby reducing the average size of membership per union. III. Multiplicity of Unions. There exist several trade unions in the same establishment. The multiplicity of unions is the result of outside leadership and labour laws. The law permits and gives sanctity to small unions. Any seven persons can form a union under the Trade Unions Act, 1926. This Act confers rights on such a union. It is allowed under the Act to raise disputes, file suits, go to conciliation and even bargain with employers. Therefore, small sections of workers are encouraged to form separate Unions. There is no restriction on the number of unions to be registered in one establishment. You will agree that the existence of multiple unions in an establishment leads to inter-union rivalry. Different unions attempt to play down each other in their bid to gain better hold on the workers. Please understand that this has serious consequences. Workers lose interest in unionism. Not only that, the employers also get an opportunity to play unions against each other. They are able to take advantage of infighting among unions and may refuse to bargain on the plea that there is no strong representative union. They can argue saying that they don’t know that who should they bargain with. Thus, multiple unions do more harm than good to the cause of trade unionism. IV. Outside Leadership. Trade unions in India are led largely by people who themselves are not workers. These outsiders are politicians, intellectuals and professionals having no experience of work in industry. Outsiders continue to dominate the trade unions to advance their personal interests. The existence of outside leadership has created the following problems: • Since outsiders have links with political parties, they give greater importance to the interest of their political parties. At times, they don not mind sacrificing the interest of their followers for the achievement of political ends. Their approach towards labour problems is coloured by political considerations. This hampers the growth of healthy employer-employee relations. When there is an industrial dispute, the leaders try to solve it through political pressures and interventions. This naturally obstructs the growth of understanding and accommodation between workers and employers. Outsides leaders are responsible for the creation of multiple unions, in case they are not satisfied with other union leaders, they would leave that union with a group of dissident workers and form another rival union in
the same plant. Such an approach kills the solidity and solidarity of trade union movement. V. Financial Problems. The financial position of the trade unions is weak because their average yearly income is very low and inadequate. The subscription rates are very low. Under conditions of multiplicity of unions, a union interested in increasing its membership figures keeps the subscription rate unduly low. As a result, the funds with the unions are inadequate and they cannot undertake welfare programmes for their members. Another reason for the weak financial position of union is that large amounts of subscription dues remain unpaid by the workers. Besides this, unions do not have proper staff and organisation to collect subscriptions. And last but not the least, the attitude of the workers also plays an important role in this regard. VI. Indifferent Attitude of Workers. In India, a large number of workers have not joined any union. Moreover, all the members of the trade unions do not show interest in their affairs. The attendance at the general meetings of the unions is very low. Under such circumstance, trade unionism cannot be expected to make much progress. The problems are so many……. Where are the solutions? They are very much here in the form of some suggestions for strengthening the trade Unionism in India. What are you thinking? Are you imagining yourself as an employer and contemplating that where is the need for strengthening the trade unions? Please remember that the Unions are not always a threat to the management. They can be a good source for knowing the feelings of the workers or in other words they can be the source of feedback. The management can pass on the information to the workers through the Trade unions. The chosen representatives, will be much more effective in sharing the information with the workers. I am sure you will agree that the members of the workers will pay more attention and be willing to listen to the union members more than the management representatives. So now coming on to the suggestions.
Suggestions for Healthy Growth of Unionism Sound trade union has the potentialities for generating a healthy circle of better labour productivity, increasing earnings of labour, expanding their purchasing power, improving their working and living conditions, increasing efficiency, and having more production. Such a state of affairs would be beneficial not only to workers, but also to the industry and to the nation. Therefore, it is essential to recognise the vital importance of trade union as an integral part of the industrial structure of India. The Government and many enlightened employers do appreciate the importance of the role of trade unions, and their policy is one of encouragement and assistance to the trade unionism. But please note that the future of trade unionism in Indian depends mainly upon the effort of the unionists themselves. You must have heard that real strength must come from within. For developing internal vitality, a strong and stable trade union movement is essential for the proper functioning of industry. A few suggestions for the development of such unions are: I. One Union in One Industry: Multiplicity of unions in the same plant leads to inter-union rivalry that ultimately cuts at the root of the trade union movement. It weakens the power for collective bargaining and reduces the effectiveness of workers in securing their legitimate rights. Therefore, there should be only one union in one industry. II. Paid Union Officials: Generally, the trade unions avail the services of the honorary workers due to lack of funds. The practice should be stopped because honorary office bearers cannot do full justice to the task entrusted to them because of lack of time at their disposal. Suppose that you are asked to do something in the office, which requires a lot of responsibility. You are not offered any thing in return. Of course the motivational levels will come down unless and until you are a very passionate or a committed person. The same applies to the officials of the unions. Therefore, paid union officials should be employed who are persons of proven integrity and who are able to evaluate the demands of workers so that they may negotiate with employers on equal footing. III. Development of Leadership from Within: It is of crucial importance that trade unions are managed by the workers, and not by outsiders. Leadership should be developed from within the rank and file of the workers. We have already discussed the problems related to the outside leadership in the organisations. Please note that the outside leadership should not be encouraged in the organisations because of the following reasons: • The outsiders do not have any knowledge about the functioning of the organisation
They do not have any interest Their interests could only satisfy political interests.
IV. Recognition of Trade Unions. Till recently, the employers refused recognition to the trade unions either on the basis that unions consisted of only a minority of employees or two or more unions existed. You should be aware that the Trade Unions Act is completely silent on the question of recognising a trade union for the purpose of collective bargaining. Such a provision exists, however, in the Annexure A of the Code of Discipline, which is a voluntary measure. This Annexure lays down the following criteria for recognising a trade union: 1. Where there are more than one union, a union claiming recognition should have been functioning for at least one year after registration. Where there is only one union, this condition would not apply. 2. The membership of the union should cover at least fifteen per cent of the workers in the establishment concerned. Membership would be counted only of those who have paid their subscription for at least 3 months during the period of 6 months immediately preceding the month of reckoning. 3. A union may claim to be recognised as a representative union for workers in all establishments in an industry in a local area if it has a membership of at least 25% of the workers of that industry in that area. 4. When a union has been recognised, there should be no change in its position for a period of 2 years. 5. Where there are several unions in an industry or establishment, the one with the largest membership should be recognised. 6. A representative union for an industry in an area should have the right to represent the workers in all the establishments in the industry, but if a union of workers in a particular establishment has membership of 50% or more of the workers of that establishment, it should have the right to deal with matters of purely local interest such as, for instance, the handling of grievances pertaining to its own members. All other workers, who are not members of that union might either operate through the representative union for the industry or seek redress directly. 7. Only unions that observe the Code of Discipline are entitled to recognition
Please note that registration and recognition of trade unions are not the same terms. I want you to research on the difference and discuss amongst yourselves.
And last but not the least, another way of strengthening the trade unions is the improvement in their financial conditions. The subscription fees should be increased. The members should pay their dues in time so that the unions have enough money to take care of the overall benefits and welfare of the workers.
Article from Indian Journal for Industrial Relations (Volume39, July 2003) INDIAN TRADE UNIONS: TODAY AND BEYOND TOMORROW Ernesto Noronha CHANGING WORLD ECONOMY AND LABOUR The last decade brought sweeping changes to the way in which the world economy functioned. This qualitative changes in the world economic system can be attributed to factors such as the advent of new global markets in services, increase of mergers and takeovers, weakening of anti-monopoly laws and the rise of global consumer markets. The full globalising potential has been realised with the networking of IT systems. The Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have assisted in the integration of some elements of the Third World into the production networks of the multinationals and have broad earned the effective reach of the market (Schiller, 2000). Economies, previously cushioned from external shocks, are now subject to fluctuations of global markets (Hyman, 1999). Norms such as privatization, liberalization and deregulation are no more an issue of debate. The less developed countries (LDCs) in order to avoid economic and political marginalisation have opened up their economies. In fact, there is a scramble to provide free trade zones, which not only guarantees exemption of taxes and duties but also grants institutional and legislative conditions for profitable exploitation of the labour force. Multinationals can now shop around for the tax and Labour regime, which suits them best. The multinational corporation and the World Trade Organisation seek to outlaw national laws, which restrict free trade. In short, the economic environment has become for harsher and global competition has put new pressures on national industrial relations regimes (Hyman, 1999). Evans (1997) states that the response of the labour movement to the establishment of the WTO has been a muted one. The erosion of trade union power has run alongside the build up of power on the side of transnational corporations. The pressure on companies to maintain market share and the weakening of regulatory regimes have intensified global competition, leading to pressure on Labour standards and lower wages across the world (Smith, 1999). Today the traditional core constituency of trade union membership has dwindled. A secure and well-paid working class has ceased to be the norm, giving way to a flexible production arrangement. The informal economy is seen as a refuge against depredation of the free market (McMichael, 2000). Plant closings, relocations abroad, removal of subside and tariffs are justified by the threat of global competition (Portes, 2000). Plant closings, relocations abroad, removal of subsidies and tariffs are justified by the threat of global competition (Portes, 2000). “A typical” employment situations have become increasingly typical. Part-time work, short-term and casual employment, agency work, self-employment and unemployment have all become more common. These changes in the constituencies which unions seek to recruit and represent have posed a new challenges to trade unions. Traditionally a potential trade union member was a full-time employee. As a result the trade union agenda was
predominantly concerned with terms and conditions of employment like achieving the payment of a “family wage”, defining and reducing the standard working week, and constraining the employer’s ability to hire and fire at will (Hyman, 1999). Furthermore, employees’ traditional identities are being slowly displaced and the transformatory ideals have lost their grip; workers adopt “ a rational, instrumental or experimental attitude towards the unions (or parties). To win their support, unions now have to pass a direct and pragmatic test. However, unions of late have come to be widely perceived as conservative institutions; primarily concerned with defending the relative advantages of a minority of the working population. Management on their part has also established new forms of direct communication, like team working, as new mechanisms of collective decision-making with employees (Hyman, 1999). Given this context, unions have been called to abjure the path of conflict and to explore the path of co-operation.
INDIAN LABOUR TODAY The changes taking place in the Indian economy since 199 reflect the above situation. Tariff and non-tariff trade barriers have been lowered, industrial licensing abandoned in many sectors, private capital permitted in areas reserved for the public sector, restrictions on foreign direct investment removed, steps have been taken towards privatization, food subsidies have been reduced and the rupee devalued. This has resulted in a strengthened presence of multinational companies, increase in redundancy, introduction of new technologies and new management techniques, the growth of the core/periphery model. Ghatoshkar (2000) and Noronha (1996) state that Indian management has today introduced flexibility by restructuring, of companies, banning recruitment of permanent category employees, shutting of units or departments, transferring of jobs from bargainable to non-bargainable categories, introducing functional flexibility, intensifying the working day through pressure to increase productivity, opening parallel plants, employing contract workers and subcontracting out production .The technological possibility of the internet has given a boost to downsizing and lean management. The trend is to outsource work as much as possible to keep the core company small (Mitter, 2000). Further, though law does not allow closure o industrial units without permission by the government, in practice there are not restrictions on closures. To permit labour market flexibility there is a call for changes in labour laws. The VRS has enabled employers to side-step Section 25(N) of the ID Act. Recent, long-term agreements (LTA) signed by unions at their various plants allow a management the scope for organizing and reorganizing the work processes. Managements have been able to undo the union power by relocating units in interior places and simultaneously curbing militancy in existing plants where there is a strong union (Noronha, 2000). The unions have agreed to participate in re-layout, relocation, process improvement, reallocation of work,
redeployment of manpower, etc., which enable the company to be competitive (Sivanathiran, 1999). Threat of industrial closures has forced unions to give up or curb gains and accept job loss. All rehabilitation packages include enhanced hours of work and flexibility in rescheduling working hours, holidays, earned leave and so on. Norma related to workload have also gone up. Wage freeze and even cuts in minimum wages are introduced. The unions also promise that they will into tolerate any misconduct on the part of the workers (Sundaram et al, 1996). Employers have begun to se methods of participation in management as a means to combine with workers against unions. Union seem to get co-opted into the managements scheme of things through participation techniques (Sheth, 1993. Many Indian organisations are now using techniques like quality circles, Kaizen, just-in-time, total quality management, total empowerment, teamwork, productivity-linked wages, profit sharing, an performance-based rewards, etc. to increase productivity. The human resource development approach has developed workers, loyalty towards organizational goals and unions compete with this for employee loyalty (Krishna and Monappa, 1994). However, introduction of information technology has not brought about major changes in the way people work Organisations still rely on on-site direct supervision of workers and personal interaction as it gets difficult for company to ensure quality of the services and delivery time. Further, as observed elsewhere in call centers located in India, the diversity of tasks gets diminished, leading to stressful and repetitive work, e.g. uninterrupted answering of customer telephones affects the physical and mental health of the employees (Mitter, 2000). The trends outlined above have led to the creation of two categories of workers who are less represented trade unions. At one end of the scale are highly skilled workers; developing new careers and having new aspirations while at the other end are marginal workers, scattered and prone to exploitation as they tend to fall outside the traditional employment pattern (ILO, 1999). Dietrich (1984) states that the big national federation of labour have not been interested in taking up these issues of contract labour have not been interested in taking up these issues of contract labour and declining industries like textiles. They concentrate on big profit-making industries where it is easier to get concessions. ‘While trade unions exploit product market advantages for their members, management takes advantage of favorable labour market conditions to push more work on to cheap labour’. Benefits bargained apply only to the existing workers leaving the door open to recruit at a lower price (Ramaswamy, 1983). This has blunted the revolutionary potential of labour (Banerjee, 1983). Further, Reddy et al. (1991) observe that the better-educated workers are oriented towards personal rather than common goals and this impedes participation in union activity. The workers are involved in union politics only to the extent that it fulfills their personal gains. Further, traditional unions organize on an industry-and/or region wide basis but in then ever industries and younger workers it is at the plant level. The reason for this is that younger workers desire to gain control over their unions, as the traditional structure of trade unions does not provide a scope for expression of these aspirations. These workers are, therefore, forming their own independent unions, which are not part of national trade union centers. Thus traditional party based unions found their potential recruitment challenged and curtailed. Further,
bargaining is becoming increasingly fragmented; there is a shift towards enterprise bargaining (ILO, 1999). Trade unions in the banking sector believe that the seventh Bipartite Wage Negotiation might be the last signed settlement. The Indian banking Association (IBA) wants bank-level wage settlements in the future. In another case, the unions in the more profitable jute mills want to break away from the industry-wide arrangement in force and set-up their own mill-level agreement. By decentralizing bargaining structures and expanding the scope and duration of labors contracts, employers and the governments are trying to minimize the monopoly effects of unions. Enterprise based trade unions have also had to accept that their pay is determined by productivity (Bhattacharjee, 1999). However, in spite of being on the defensive, Indian trade unions face anti-union feeling from the public (ILO, 1999). The unions, over the years, have lost the sympathy of the general public. Strikes, called often, disrupt everyday life and cause inconvenience to the masses (Sharma and Dayal, 1999). Consumer forum now asserts that no trade union has the right to resort to illegal strike, in contravention of the mandatory perquisites, which may result in grave and irreparable hardships, inconvenience and loss to the members of the public. Thus, the basic dilemma faced by trade unions is the need to simultaneously serve the interests of their members is being seen to serve the interests of society as a whole. The challenges posed by the increasing globalisation of production, liberalization of world trade, changing profile of workers, beside a shift in management strategies have forced the labour movement to reassess its tactics. Unions, therefore, need to revive and to redefine their role as sword of justice rather than conservative interest groups (Hyman, 1999). INDIAN TRADE UNIONS BEYOND TOMORROW The most important task before Indian trade unions today is to organize the unorganised. There is a need for unions to coordinate the struggle of industrial workers with that of rural laborers and widen workers’ struggles, which have remained confined to an economic movement for wages. No serious effort has yet been made by national trade unions to organize home-based and part-time workers in India, although there have been a number of successful attempts at local level for instance, Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in Ahmedabad (ILO, 1999) states that recruiting this vulnerable section of society and defending, their interest is not a matter of doing good for those less fortunate. It is matter of survival for the Indian trade union movement. It clearly is time that the Indian trade union movement broke out of the confines of the organized sector and made serious inroads into the unorganized workforce. A strong and broad based labour movement is central to the development of wide and strong political agendas. In keeping with what was just stated unions should aim at securing minimum income to all in the labour market by establishing minimum standards of employment, wages, working conditions and social security. Union strategies that bridge the gap between the formal and informal sectors are central to the future of trade unions (Jose, 2000). In fact the benefits of general union membership should not be lost when workers move into non-unionized workplaces. In case of home-based teleworking, the entire area of
negotiations needs to include allowing employees to use office space when required, email and telephones links with other workers at the employer’s expense we. Further, to ensure that teleworkers are not discriminated against office-based workers in terms of benefits and emoluments, monitoring health and safety conditions and lastly, teleworkers’ right to organize through unions should be protected (Ghatoshkar, 2000). The unions will have to seriously examine the possibility of mergers and combine their resources to influence policy makers. They also need to develop linkages with trade unions in other countries (Sharma and Dayal, 1999). To this effect, in the South Asian region, labour organizations have come together under the banner of South Asian Labour Forum. The forum members feel that this is the only way to negotiable the imposed globalisation in the developing world. However, the “strained diplomatic relations between some nations of the region”, and the apprehensive political atmosphere of the South Asian countries do weaken such attempts (Hindu, 1996). Sharma and Dayal (1999) predict that the links between political party and trade unions would weaken over a period of time and unions may have to stand on their own. This may lead to new alignments. This is very true of the HMS, which has undergone considerable changes from its earlier political character largely because of the fragmentation of the socialist movement tin the country. Woven the recent confrontation of the BMS at the 37th Indian Labour Conference points in that direction. The loosening of ties with parent bodies does lead to great autonomy in decentralized decision-making (Bhattacharjee, 1999). However, it also reduces the economic strength and the political influences of the unions. Governments feel less need to take account of their views, especially in a climate of tough monetary discipline, curbs on public spending, privatization of utilities and public enterprises, and deregulation of labour markets (ILO, 1999). Thus, unions need to grapple with this change in political reality. Unions could also strengthen their technical expertise so as to become valuable advisors to workers ‘ representatives. They could set up “employee consultancies” helping workers maintain their skills and expertise. They could provide information on job opportunities, submit proposals for alternative employment, identify legal changes and employer policies and equip employees to respond to the needs of different sectors and occupations. In terms of the long-term viability of union organization members need to be prepared for present and future work. Skill development processes need to be organized that are critical to long-term economic security. Only then will people get involved with unions. Unions might attract new members if they improve the services they offer. This calls for a subtle combination of individual services and collective representation. Unions can make unique contribution into the development of the community through their contributions with such development institutions as consumer cooperatives, housing societies, health funds and social security organization. However, they need to improve their public image (Jose, 2000). Besides this, the labour movement has very little capacity or ability to do detailed research on the core issues relating to globalisation. This is party a resources constraint and party the result of low priority placed upon such work. The labour movement urgently needs a body capital and willing to carry out this research function (Evans, 1997).
As representative of a well-organized and articulate group in society, trade unions will have to move into the broader terrain of defending economic and social rights. Sharma and Dayal (1999) state that Indian trade unions operate within their own domain and do not actively coordinate with other social groups or movements. Trade unions today face the challenges of convincing the public that they can act on behalf of all employees, unionized or not. This requires building alliances with community bodies, social movements and NGOs which may require addressing concerns of communities, ethnic groups, religious organizations and neighborhood association which lie beyond the realm of the workplace (Jose, 2000). In so many areas like child labour, human rights and the environment, the NGOs have been far ahead of the trade union movement. For instance even the international labour movement is nowhere near the power and influence of the international environment movement. Pressure from the environment all obey has shaped much of the WTO agenda on the environment. Lessons must be learnt from these groups. Alliances must also be forged with other progressive groups working in the trade field on issues of shared importance (Evans, 1997). Instead of bemoaning or complaining that NGOs indulge in some under hand dealings to get money, trade unions need to carefully study NGOs, and wherever possible ally with them. One instance of this is the international Transport Workers Federation (ITF), which has a very good relationship with Green peace, the well known environmental group, on issues such as marine pollution and the toxic waste trade (Smith, 1999). Union movement in alliance with environment and people’s organization will be able to deal with the onslaught of globalisation and repression that it brings. Therefore unions will have to take the public along. When they want to defend their right on exclusive economic interest where workers interest are in conflict with those of society. They should be viewed as efficient providers of services to their constituents and the public at large (Jose, 2000). They should act as a true social partner, helping people outside the workplace and voicing their concerns collectively. The unions should consider themselves as instrument of society and should strengthen society and not just its members in isolation (Sharma and Dayal, 1999). Indian unions are also confronted with the low participation of rank and file membership. General body meetings are poorly attended except when it comes to wages, bonus, festival payments or some other financial benefits. The workers regard unions in instrumental terms. Therefore the decision-making will have to be democratic (Sharma and Dayal 1999). The changing profile of workers has given impetus to individualism, coupled with new strategies to make employees identify more closely with the company. Trade unions have to adapt their structure and strategies in order to represent workers in the new environment. The simple notion of solidarity is now outdated, a modernized concept has to encompass the mutual support of those whose positions and interest are different (Zoll, 1996). This traditional view of solidarity wherein trade union members perceive a common interest is in constant conflict with individualization. It has to take into account individualism “ Diversity is not primarily to be a faced by starting from a postulated units, but starting from diversity, one should look for concrete differences and similarities and develop differentiated views of solidarity from them. (Valkenburg, 1996). This is the need of the hour given the fragmented nature of Indian trade unions today.
Moreover, the bureaucratic – hierarchical model has led to alienation and disentanglement among trade union members. The role of trade unions official should no longer be a universal expert but a facilitator. It implies a reorganization of trade union activity away from bureaucratic, administrative and control towards collaborative project work. This means that the dominance of paid officials should disappear and the knowledge and competence of members are at least equivalent. Participation can no longer be viewed exclusively in the context of general central policy. The traditional approach is to mediate from above; such a formula satisfies no one. An alternative modern approach is to initiate a dialogue between groups involved and helping them to reach an agreement rather than improving it from above. In recent years European unions have searched for alternative organization experiments with networks, working groups and circles becoming increasingly common and have built an organic link between leaders, activists and ordinary members (Hyman, 1996; Zoll, 1996). This could also be tried in India with the profile of workers undergoing a change. Besides this, the new communications technologies-in particular web-based conferencing, software and video conferencing-seem to offer the possibility of strengthening the transactional institutions of the labour movement as well as the national ones by allowing groups to meet regularly at practically no cost. This would make trade unions more attractive, more democratic and more powerful (Lee, 1998). Though this seems to have limited applicability in the Indian context a way of using these technologies in India needs to be considered. It is a man’s world when it comes to union leadership (Sharma and Dayal, 1999). Union should pay special attention to previously under-represented groups, such as women and minorities, within union structures and in promoting the interest of these groups (especially concerning gender issues) in the workplace. For instance, since the decision in the case of Vishaka V/s state of Rajasthan and others in 1997 unions should take up sexual harassment cases more vigorously. Unions in western countries attempt to reconcile the interests of the diverse groups by establishing separate committees or groups to represent different categories of workers, or by including representatives of these workers in the machinery of the union (ILO, 1999). The case for organizing women separately is strongly advocated to avoid the marginalisation of women’s concerns and to reconcile the competing interest of various groups. Lastly, a competitive edge will decide the survival of the organization. Up gradation of technology, product innovation, quality and low cost are required for survival. The union will have to collaborate rather than be adversarial in approach: only this will help them to survive in the long run. The collective bargaining agenda needs to be expanded to include the future of each industry. At the local level, unions should approach management with a suggestion to sit together to chalk out a joint plan for saving the company (Smith 1999). To conclude, Hyman (1999) states, “to resist the hostile forces ranged against them, unions must mobilize countervailing power resources; but such resources consist in the ability to attract members, to inspire membe4rs and sympathizers to engage in action, and to win the support (or at least neutrality) of the broader public. The struggle for trade union organisaion is thus a struggle for the hearts and minds of people; in other words, a battle of ideas”.
Definition of Trade Union
Section 2 (h) of the Trade Unions Act, 1926 has defined a trade union as “Any combination, Whether temporary or permanent, formed primarily for the purpose of regulating the relations between workmen and employers,or between workmen and workmen, or between employers and employers, or for imposing restrictive conditions on the conduct of any trade or business, and includes any federation of two or more trade unions.”
• • • • • • • • Better Wages Better Working conditions Bonus Resist unsuitable schemes Secure welfare Project Interests of workers Social Welfare Organisational growth and stability
• Militant • Fraternal
Criticism of Trade Unions by Employers
• • • • • Lack of education May not welcome change Strike on Illogical basis Creation of Artificial scanity of labour Undue demands relating to wages
Motivation to Join Unions
• • • • • • Greater Bargaining Power Make their voices heard Minimise discrimination Sense of security Sense of participation Sense of Belongingness
Structure of Trade Unions
• • • • Plant Level Federations Local level federations Regional level federations National level federations
Problems and Weaknesses of Trade Unions:
• • • • • • Uneven growth Limited membership Multiplicity of unions Outside leadership Financial problems Indifferent Attitude of workers
Suggestions for Healthy growth of Unions
• • • • • One Union Per Industry Paid Union Officials Development of Internal Leadership Recognition of Trade Unions Improved Financial condition
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