National Commission on Labour (1967)||
24.2 Section 3(1)(2) of the I.D, Act provides for the setting up of a works committee consisting of representatives of management and employees, in every undertaking employing 100 or more workmen, "to promote measures for securing and preserving amity and good relations between the employer and the workmen and to that end, to comment upon matters of their common interest or concern and endeavour to compose any material difference of opinion in respect of such matters". The representatives of the workmen, whose number shall not be less than the number of representatives of the employer, are to be chosen from among the workmen engaged in the establishment and in consultation with their registered trade union, if any. Under the Bombay Act, joint committees can be set up, but only in units which have recognised unions. On this practice of consultation, therefore, we have experience of both arrangements (i) where the union may or may not be consulted in the setting up of a committee and (ii) where the recognised union is fully in the picture.
24. 3 The usefulness of works committees as a channel for joint consultation and the need for strengthening and promoting this institution was stressed in the labour policy statements in the successive Plans. The legal requirement and the encouragement given by the Government led to the setting up of works committees in a number of undertakings; the pace of progress was, however, slow and uneven in different parts of the country. The number of works committees set up was 1,142 in 1951. It rose to 2,574 in 1959-60 (out of 4,730 required to be set up) and 3,133 in 1965-66 (out of 5,091 required to be set up). But mere numbers, though important, do not count. The general feeling among knowledgeable people in the country is that the committees have not proved effective. This is borne out by several research studies, though some have come to the conclusion that where there is enough understanding on both sides about the need for such consultations, the committees have achieved a measure of success. Where the committees have not succeeded, all assessments have pointed out that the failure is due partly to the tact that the committees are statutory, and thus an imposition on the employer, but mainly because the parties concerned do not evince sufficient interest in them. According to us, this diagnosis is but partial and so are the remedies suggested. Policy statements on this basis have thus not helped in vitalising the works committees. For instance, the debate has continued for some time on the premise that vagueness in the legal definition of the scope and functions of the committees was largely responsible for their failure. To remedy this defect, the Indian Labour Conference drew up in 1959 an illustrative list of items which works committees would normally deal with and a list of items which would be beyond their scope. The former included consultation on (i) conditions of work such as ventilation, lighting, temperature and sanitation including latrines
and urinals, (ii) amenities such as drinking water, canteens, dining rooms, rest rooms, medical and health services, (iii) safety and accident prevention, occupational diseases and protective equipment, (iv) adjustment of festival and national holidays, (v) administration of welfare and fine funds, (vi) educational and recreational activities, (vii) promotion of thrift and savings, and (viii) implementation and review of decisions arrived at in meetings of works committees. The items specifically excluded were: discussion on (i) wages and allowance, (ii) bonus and profit-sharing bonus, (iii) rationalisation and matters connected with the fixation of work load, (iv) matters connected with fixation of a standard labour force, (v) programmes of planning and development, (vi) matters connected with retrenchment and lay-off, (vii) victimisation for trade union activities, (viii) provident fund, gratuity schemes and other retirement benefits, (ix) quantum of leave and national and festival holidays, (x) incentive schemes, and (xi) housing and transport services. This clarification of the scope and functions of the works committees helped. But, as with all remedies where the basic weakness is not properly sorted out, it could not work for long and the more fundamental issue of trade union acceptance of works committees soon came to the surface.
24.4 In the evidence before us. State Governments have expressed the view that the advisory nature of the recommendations, vagueness regarding their exact scope and functions, inter-union rivalries, union opposition, and reluctance of employers to utilise such media have rendered works committees ineffective. The employers' associations have attributed the failure of works committees to factors like inter-union rivalries, union antipathy, and the attitude of members (workers' wing) in trying to raise in the committee discussion on extraneous issues. According to the unions, conflict between union jurisdiction and the jurisdiction of the works committees and the unhelpful attitude of the employers have generally led to their failure.
24.5 We consider that the effectiveness of these committees will depend on the following factors:—
(a) a more responsive attitude on the part of management;
(b) adequate support from unions;
(c) proper appreciation of the scope and functions of the works committees;
(d) whole-hearted implementation of the recommendations of the works committees; and
(c) proper coordination of the functions of the multiple bipartite institutions at the plant level now in vogue.
24.6 Even at the risk of repeating the obvious, we mention a vital point which requires to be recognised. It is the creation of an atmosphere of trust on both sides. Unions should feel that management is not side-tracking the effective union through a works committee. Management should equally realise that some of their known prerogatives are meant to be parted with. Basic to the success of such unit level committees is union recognition. Where a recognised union exists, as under the BIR Act, and it has accepted the responsibility of the arrangement, joint committees have a better showing. We take this as a pointer to our recommendations.
24.7 We have recommended elsewhere compulsory recognition of unions in establishments employing 100 or more workers and in units above a stipulated capital investment1 The same stipulation about size should apply to formation of works committees under new arrangement. The main change that we recommend—and in our view it is a fundamental one—is in regard to representation of the workers' side on the works committee. The recognised union should he given the right to nominate all worker members on this body. With union recognition obligatory, this would eliminate the most important cause of conflict and antipathy between unions and works committees. Other hurdles such as (a) apathy of the management: (b) vagueness regarding the exact scope of its functions; (c) inadequate implementation of unanimous conclusions, will all fall in their proper place. Taking the suggestions of the ILC regarding the scope and functions of works committees, already referred to, as a guide, division of functions between the recognised union and the works committee should be a matter of agreement between the employer and the recognised union.