National Commission on Labour (1967)||
22.16 Constitution: The need for tripartite consultation on labour matters on the pattern set by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) was recommended by the Whitley Commission. It envisaged a statutory organisation "which should be sufficiently large to ensure the adequate representation of the various interests involved but it (the organisation) should not be too large to prevent members from making individual contributions to the discussions".2 This recommendation did not come up for implementation during the first ten years after it was made. And when in 1942, the plenary Labour Conference (later named as the Indian Labour Conference—ILC) and the Standing Labour Advisory Committee (which subsequently dropped the word 'Advisory' from its title—SLC) were instituted, they were not made statutory. Initially the ILC consisted of 44 members, whereas the SLC was about half the size of the ILC. The pattern
1Third Five Year Plan, p. 250. 2Report of the Royal Commission on Labour in India, 1931, p. 467.
of representation was governed by that obtaining in the International Labour Conference.1 It ensured (i) equality of representation between the Government and non-Government representatives, (ii) parity between employers and workers, (ii) nomination of representatives of organised employer and labour being left to the concerned organisations, and (iv) representation of certain interests (unorganised employers and unorganised workers), where necessary, on an ad hoc basis through nomination by Government. The delegates are free to bring one official and one non-official adviser with them. These advisers do not participate in the discussions except when required by their principals to do so and permitted by the Chairman. No qualifications are prescribed to entitle a central organisation for representation at these forums, though a convention has grown over the years that a central organisation having a minimum membership of 100,000 spread all over the country and over a large number of industries should be entitled to representation in proportion to its strength.
22.17 The composition of the two bodies has undergone a series of changes in the course of their long existence. Representation to the unorganised sector was given up in 1952-53 in response to the demands of other organisations represented at the ILC/SLC. The major Reorganisation of States in 1956 introduced another change, but only in the composition of the Government group. Parity between Government and non-Government representation was disturbed at the SLC due to this change and at the ILC as a result of representation given to the employing Ministries at the Centre since 1959. In more recent years, the need has been felt for enlarging the employers' wing to accommodate public sector corporations. Central organisations of workers not included in the tripartite have been demanding suitable representation for some time. We refer to this aspect later. These disparities in representation have not caused difficulties in tripartite deliberations so tar, since no voting is involved in reaching conclusions, though a provision exists in the rules drawn up for the ILC/SLC for taking decisions by a two-third majority. It is the consensus emerging in the discussions which matters for providing a basis for action by the constituents of the tripartite.
22.18 Functions: The ILC was instituted to advise the Government of India on matters brought to its notice by the Government. In the earlier phase of the tripartite, the SLC used to deliberate on its own or over matters sent to it by the ILC and the latter made the final recommendations. In due course, both the ILC and the SLC have become deliberative bodies, the former being more representative. The objectives set before these two tripartite bodies at the time of their inception in 1942 were
"(i) promotion of uniformity in labour legislation;
(ii) laying down of a procedure for the settlement of industrial disputes; and
(iii) discussion of all matters of all-India importance as between employers and employees".
The purposes indicated in the ILO Recommendation No. 113 (1960) on tripartite consultation and cooperation are more general in nature to suit the varying national conditions. These are: promotion of 'mutual understanding and good relations between public authorities and employers' and workers' organisations as well as between these organisations with a view to developing the economy as a whole or individual branches thereof, improving conditions of work and raising standards of living.' In addition, such consultation and cooperation was expected to ensure that employers' and workers' organisations were consulted by the public authorities in the formulation and implementation of laws affecting their interests and in the establishment and working of suitable national bodies. In India, the scope of the ILC-SLC is confined to labour matters only, though other consultative forums on which representatives of employers and workers find a place along with those of the Government and other social groups have been constituted for advising Government in wider aspects of social, economic and industrial policies. In the State sphere also, similar arrangements exist for consultation on labour matters. The State Labour Advisory Boards, as these tripartite bodies are rightly called, function more or less in the same manner.
22.19 The agenda for the ILC/SLC meetings is settled by the Labour Ministry after taking into consideration suggestions sent to it by
1 A tripartite system, parallel to ours. is not Found elsewhere except in Pakistan, Ceylon, Malaysia and Burma where it originated from the Indian experience. Tripartite advisory bodies in countries such as Netherlands, France and Canada are functioning in the wider social and economic sphere; Some of these bodies have on them other social groups, besides labour and management. Experts are invariably represented on these committees.
member organisations. The demand that the conference should frame its own agenda has not been accepted by Government; nor the other one that there should be an independent secretariat for the ILC/SLC. The ILC/SLC work with minimum procedural rules to facilitate tree and fuller discussions among the members. The ILC was expected to meet once a year; the SLC met as and when necessary.
22.20 It may be mentioned here that the flexibility and informality of rules and procedures which characterise the Indian tripartite consultative system is largely in keeping with what was later recommended by the ILO Committee on Consultation and Cooperation for formulation of the ILO Recommendation No. 113. The following guidelines were recommended, inter alia, in this connection: (i) use of flexible procedures; (ii) calling meetings only when necessary with adequate notice of meeting and agenda; (ii) reference of certain items to working parties if necessary; (iv) dispensing with voting procedures in arriving at conclusions to facilitate consultation; (v) maintaining records of discussions in appropriate details and circulation of conclusions reached to all participants; (vi) documentation for reference;
(vii) provision of an effective secretariat and a small and representative steering group in case of a more formal consultative machinery.
Contribution of ILC/SLC
22.21 Achievements: The contribution of the ILC/SLC can be assessed in terms of the objectives set before them and other functions performed by them in the process of achieving these objectives. The ILC/SLC have facilitated enactment of central legislation on various subjects to be made applicable to all the States of the Indian Union in order to promote uniformity in labour legislation which was an important objective to be served by these tripartite bodies. Tripartite deliberations helped to reach a consensus, inter alia, on statutory minimum wage fixation (1944), introduction of a health insurance scheme (1945), and a provident fund scheme (1950), leading to the passing of three important central labour laws, namely, the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, the Employees' State Insurance Act, 1948, and the Employees' Provident Fund Act, 1952. The tripartite deliberations during 1942-46 on the revision of the Trade Disputes Act, 1929 helped the Union Government in enacting the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, which laid down a comprehensive disputes settlement procedure to be applicable to all States. However, a few States e.g., Maharashtra and Gujarat (formerly Bombay), Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan enacted their own legislation which was operative within the Slate boundaries along with the Central legislation. This duality of labour administration could not be mitigated by the ILC due to obvious limitations set on it by the inclusion of 'labour' in the 'Concurrent List' of the Constitution.
22.22 The second objective, namely, formulation of a dispute settlement procedure, was of special significance to the Government, since the ILC/SLC were instituted during the Second World War, when the Government's prime interest was peaceful settlement of industrial disputes. As mentioned above, the tripartite deliberations facilitated the formulation of a comprehensive procedure for disputes settlement under the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. Both the inception of she Labour Appellate Tribunal in 1950 and its abolition in 1956 were in the light of the tripartite deliberations at the ILC/SLC. The popular criticism against third party intervention came up for pointed discussion more than once in the tripartite, but the consensus continued to be in favour of adjudication.
22.23 The third objective of discussion on all matters of national importance has been well served by the ILC/SLC. The range of subjects discussed at these forums bears testimony to this. Various social, economic and administrative matters concerning labour policy are brought before this forum. In fact, on many occasions, these discussions acquired so much significance that the items on the agenda could not even be taken up. Since the Government started taking initiative for planning, and labour is a part of over-all planning, many plan proposals have come up for debate before the ILC. The persons consulted by the Planning Commission for labour policies and programmes are again those who take a leading part in the tripartite. On occasions, the SLC, under a different label and with some outsiders added, was made the agency to advise on plans for labour.
22.24 Shortcomings: In stating these achievements, we recognise that there are also debit entries to the ILC/SLC ledger. Their contribution to some labour maters has suffered, because certain far reaching decisions were taken by them apparently without adequate internal consultation within the groups forming the tripartite. The recommendation on the 'need-based minimum' could be cited as an instance of insufficient discussion within Government as a group. The distance between the spokesmen of employers' and workers' organisations at these forums on the one hand and
their members on the other and even the lack of control of the central organisations over their affiliates could illustrate the failure on the part of the other constituents of the tripartite. It is admitted by the employers' and workers' representatives that they can do very little to make their unwilling constituents accept obligations.
22.25 There is also a measure of dissatisfaction over the nature of consensus arrived at in these bodies. Increasing absence of unanimity in tripartite conclusions in recent years has been a cause for concern. The workers' organisations have criticised the procedure in reaching consensus as an exercise in semantics, leaving the basic contradictions unresolved. The employers have similarly held the view that the usefulness of tripartite bodies will be enhanced if official conclusions are based not merely on the views summed up by the Chairman, hut on the points emphasised by all the parties.