Royal Commission on Labour in India: Report(1929)||
We discuss general questions relating to trade unionism in India in a later chapter, and invite the attention of all concerned in the growth of the movement on railways, whether as employers or employed, to that chapter. There are, however, certain special questions concerning the relations of the railway administrations to trade unions which require more detailed treatment, and are best dealt with here. We have been supplied with particulars of trade unions of employees on railways which show that labour unions are, or have been, in operation on ten of the Class I railways, on some of which as many as three or four operate at the same time. Almost all are registered under the Trade Unions Act, and the majority have received some measure of recognition by the administrations concerned. Many railway trade unions came into existence during the period 1918—21. Although some ceased to exist after short spells of active life and others marked time except for occasional efforts at direct action, several of those now in existence are actively looking after the interests of their members and show promise of improved organisation and usefulness. There is an increasing tendency to look for office-bearers, and executive officers from amongst union members actually engaged in railway work, and with more experience some. of the office-bearers and representatives of the unions that gave evidence before us should do much to improve the effectiveness of their organisations. There can be no doubt that, within the last few years, the appointment of special establishment and employment officers and other movements for the improvement of labour conditions on railways have been due in a large measure to the sustained pressure of trade union executives. The All-India Railwaymen's Federation, in particular, though not a registered body under the Trade Unions Act, has been taking an active part in collective bargaining with railway authorities. Having affiliated to it trade unions of men working on all but two of the Class I railways and with an alleged membership of 100, 000, it has been able to exercise considerable influence, and arrangements have been made for half-yearly conferences with the Railway Board for the discussion of matters affecting wages and conditions of service of railway employees as a whole. The Federation " desires that there should be frequent consultations between employers' and workers' organisations in regard to staff matters to minimise misunderstanding and consequent, unhappy relations. The railway unions' right to speak on behalf of their members must, be recognised irrespective of the fact whether the grievances discussed are general or individual ". Since the inception of trade unionism on the railways, the question of recognition has been a bone of contention between the unions and the administrations. The Railways' position is thus indicated in the memorandum of the Railway Board:—
" Generally the attitude of the Railway Board is that unions conducted on sound trade union principles ought to be encouraged and that the registration of a union under the Trade Unions Act should predispose a railway administration to recognise a union, though the degree of such recognition must necessarily depend on the extent to which such union is really representative of the class or classes of staff which it is supposed to represent. The representation of individual grievances by unions is not encouraged since it is considered that adequate machinery for dealing with these already exists, individuals having the recognised official channels through which they can seek redress. On the other hand no definite ban has been laid on administrations in this respect, and there are many instances of mdividual grievances put up by a union being enquired into. There is at present little uniformity with regard to the extent to which individual railways enter into relation with their unions, nor is it possible or expedient that standardisation should be imposed until some uniformity exists in the constitution and activities of the various Associations."
Generally speaking, there is ground for the complaint that at least some of the administrations expect a higher standard of efficiency, responsibility and organisation from the trade unions than can reasonably be expected at this stage in their development. We deal in another chapter with the desirability of stimulating the growth of healthy trade unionism, with the principles governing the recognition of unions and with what is involved in recognition. We believe that a more generous policy in respect of recognition would be to the advantage of all concerned in railway work, and we commend this matter to the careful consideration of administrations and unions. These bodies should also arrive at an understanding concerning the extent of the facilities to be given to union officers and members actively engaged in promoting organisation. In the past, assistance has taken the form of special passes and leave, permission to use notice boards and to hold union meetings in railway institutes and on railway premises, freedom of action for enrolment of members, so long as there is no interference with the duties of the railway staff, and free access to railway officers. There has been, however, no uniformity of practice. We believe that a stage has been reached in the development of some unions where facilities of this kind might with advantage be conceded.