National Commission on Labour (1967)||
20.72 The Trade Unions Act, 1926 gave a legal cover to the activities of unions. It
granted them immunity from certain criminal and civil liability, and enabled unions to undertake and discharge their normal and legitimate functions, to safeguard union funds, and generally to facilitate the working of unions. It was amended on various occasions during the last forty two years of its operation mainly to remove administrative difficulties. While the amending Acts of 1928, 1937, 1960 and 1964 were relatively minor in their scope, that of 1947, which was not enforced, was of a far-reaching nature and contained provisions for the compulsory recognition of unions and for penalising unfair labour practices. Reasons for non-enforcement were partly administrative and partly the far reaching character of the amendments themselves. Many Governments felt that the unions in their jurisdiction would take years to satisfy the qualifications under the amended Act to secure recognition. There was some opposition, even within the Central Government, to enforcement of the amendments.
20.73 Under the present law, registration of unions is not compulsory; unregistered unions would not in any way be illegal. But the benefits, including immunity from civil and criminal liability, conferred by the law on registered unions will not be available to unregistered unions. Before a union can be granted registration, it is required to comply with certain formalities. It has to be sponsored by a minimum of seven members. Its rules must provide, inter alia, for (i) the objects for which it has been established, (ii) the purpose for which the general funds of the union can be spent, (iii) the procedure for the admission of ordinary, honorary and temporary members, (iv) a minimum membership subscription of 25 paise per month., (v) the manner of appointment of the executive, and (vi) the manner of dissolution of the union. At least one half of the office-bearers must be persons actually engaged or employed in the plant/industry with which the union is concerned. While the general funds of a union can be spent on specified items, it may constitute a separate fund for the protection of the civic and political interests of the members. No member can be compelled to contribute to this latter fund. The Act also provides for items like the maintenance of registers, audit of accounts, submission of returns and de-registration of unions in certain specified circumstances.
20.74 Although there has been general satisfaction with the law relating to unions for the limited purposes for which the Act was framed as far back as 1926, complaints about the manner of its administration by the State Governments have been many and varied. The evidence also emphasises the need to bring about further improvements. In particular, the tying up of union registration in some States with advance declaration by its sponsors of compliance with the Code of Discipline1 has been a matter of dissatisfaction. Suggestions made by the officer-in-charge of registration were considered by sponsors of some unions as mandatory This complaint, though, was not as extensive as it was made out to be nor were delays in registration on this account 'motivated' as alleged. In our view, the present law has helped the growth of unions by giving the needed protection to their activities. Experience of the past and requirements of the future, however, indicate the desirability of certain modifications/reforms in the present legal provisions,
20.75 We have already drawn attention to the fact that an overwhelming number of unions are too small to be viable. It has also been urged that prohibition of unfair labour practices, which was once written into the amended Act but not enforced, should be statutorily restored. According to some, the powers of the Registrar of Trade Unions (Registrar) to register and de-register unions and inspect their records, should be extended by permitting him to adjudicate on disputed union elections. The general feeling among trade unions ranges from a suggestion made by the INTUC and its affiliates that the Act should be amended to provide compulsory recognition as under the Bombay Industrial Relations Act, 1946, to the view expressed by the AITUC that all laws and regulations which interfere with, supervise or control the formation and functioning of unions should be done away with. In considering these suggestions and indicating the lines on which the Act requires amendments, we have rejected the latter view.
20.76 Registration.—Under the present law, registration of unions is not compulsory. Several unions/associations have remained outside the purview of the provisions of the Act. We feel that there is advantage in requiring all unions to get registered and be subject to uniform regulations Trade union registration should be compulsory also for industrial federations, but not for Central Organisations. Such provision would not only make for a tidier arrangement, but also result in a qualitative
1 Discussion on the Code of Discipline will be found in Chapter 24.
improvement in their organisation and functioning. The fear that compulsory registration will be a temptation for the authorities to impose onerous conditions and undue restrictions and that it will bring in an element of outside control, does not appear to be well founded. The experience of the past forty years in regard to the administration of the Trade Unions Act, 1926 supports this view.
20.77 As indicated earlier, unions of the fu-ture have to undertake greater responsibilities, and it is important that they should be streamlined to be able to discharge these. Compulsory registration will only bring the application of the same standards of obligations to all unions. We are convinced that registration does not impose any undue hardship on unions nor would the recommendations we make to improve the functioning of unions have that effect. Existing regulations for items such as maintenance of accounts, submission of returns, and observance of their constitution which only make for proper functioning, will continue; they will apply to all unions uniformly. No union which claims to take part in industrial relations procedures should at the same time be allowed to stay outside the trade union law and its obligations.
20.78 A remedy suggested for avoiding multiplicity of unions is to raise the minimum number of persons required to form a union. The present minimum of seven, some hold, should be raised to anywhere between 15 and 100 or even to 10 per cent of the employees in a unit. In our view, this may help in checking the proliferation of unions only to a limited extent. Indeed, industrial units where rival unions want to acquire a foot-hold are invariably large; any numerical limit, unless it is sufficiently high, will not serve as a deterrent to them. At the same time, a higher limit will retard the growth of unions particularly in the unorganised and small-scale sectors. A more positive remedy is needed to avoid multiplicity and we deal with- it in a subsequent chapter. When the system of union recognition gets established, unrecognised unions will have less claim for support. While the argument that in the present state of trade union growth, imposition of further restrictions on the formation of unions should be discouraged is not without merit, we feel that a step in the right direction will be to fix a somewhat higher minimum membership for sponsoring a union. It seems to us appropriate to raise the number required for starting new unions to 10 per cent (sub-ject to a minimum of 7) of the regular employees of a plant or 100, whichever is lower. It is also necessary to ensure that the initial membership requirement for registration as indicated above should be satisfied by a union to continue its registration. If the annual return submitted by a union discloses that its membership has fallen below the prescribed level, the Registrar should be empowered to cancel its registration.
20.79 Powers of the Registrar.—It has been brought to our notice that the present provisions of the trade union law, particularly in regard to the powers and functions of the Registrar, require modification. The suggestion is that stricter vigilance should be exercised by the Registrar in the matter of compliance with various statutory regulations/requirements. The powers of the Registrar should be widened to enforce proper observance of rules and the maintenance of membership registers as well as the statement of accounts. There is also a view that the powers of the Registrar need to be enlarged in regard to cancellation of registration. On a complaint supported by not less than 10 per cent of the union members, he should be able to cancel registration if it is found that the union continues to violate its own bye-laws or that it wilfully submits false information and incorrect returns, fails to hold its annual meetings or elections for constituting the executive, and commits similar lapses.
20.80 Under Section 10 of the Act, the certificate of a union can be withdrawn or cancelled if the Registrar is satisfied that the union has wilfully, and after a notice from him, con- travened any provision of the Act. The contravention which is generally noticed is failure to submit annual returns. The section, however, requires that the default has to be wilful. To establish a wilful default to the satisfaction of a court is difficult. We, therefore, recommend that where the union fails to submit the annual return, its registration should be cancelled irrespective of whether the default is wilful or otherwise.
20.81 Similarly, the position regarding the treatment of materially defective returns, when submitted to the Registrar, is not clear. Whether a materially defective return should be considered a return at all within the meaning of Section 10 of the Act, as it stands today, is not free from doubt. We, therefore, propose that submission of a return which is defective in material particulars should amount to a default and the union should be under obligation to rectify mistakes within the prescribed period, failing which the Registrar should be deemed not to have received the return. In all such
cases, it stands to reason that provision should be made for appeal over the Registrar's orders to the Labour Court. We recognise the difficulties which industrial unions registered under the Act may encounter in getting returns from their branches. Some concessions in their case will not offend the spirit of this recommendation. The Registrar may be empowered to condone a delay in submission of returns, if there are satisfactory reasons to do so,
20.82 Time limit.—The Registrar should be time-bound to take a decision regarding grant/ refusal of registration. He should complete all the preliminaries leading to registration within thirty days of the receipt of application from the union excluding the time which the union takes in answering the queries from the Registrar.
20.83 Re-registration.—There is no provision which regulates an application for re-registration from a union, the registration of which has been cancelled. We consider it appropriate to provide that any application for re-registration from such a union should not be entertained within six months of the date of cancellation of registration.
20.84 Election Disputes.—Disputes between rival sets of office-bearers of trade unions have also been on the increase in recent years. No satisfactory remedy is available at present except civil litigation which often becomes pro-. longed and tortuous. We recommend that the Act may be amended to provide that in case of a disputed election the matter should be referred to the Labour Court