National Commission on Labour (1967)||
22.26 The decision to constitute industrial committees was the outcome of tripartite deliberations at the ILC in 1944 over demarcation of general subjects discussed at the ILC and their relevance to different industries. A Labour Welfare Committee for some industries was proposed, but ultimately it was decided to set up tripartite industrial committees on the pattern of the ILO Committees to consider the special problems of the industries concerned. The first industrial committee was constituted in 1947 for the plantation industry, composed of representatives of Central and State Governments besides equal representatives of workers and employers. Industrial committees have so far been set up for plantations, cotton textiles, jute, coal mining, mines other than coal, cement, tanneries and leather goods manufactories, iron and steel, building and construction industry, chemical industries, road transport, engineering industries, metal trades, electricity, gas and power, and banking. These industrial committees do not meet regularly; meetings are convened as and when required. The composition of these committees is considered afresh each time a session is called.
22.27 In a way, discussions in industrial committees have a better focus. Problems of an industry are specific and there is scope for adequate debate and for reaching practicable conclusions. Some of the generalities which have characterised the debates in the ILC/SLC are fortunately absent. The record of the industrial committees which have met frequently has been definitely encouraging, if judged in the light of collective agreements reached in the committees and their implementation. The unfortunate part has been that the committees meet too infrequently. A large number of those mentioned in the last paragraph have been constituted more recently. The more active among them are the committees for (i) plantations, (ii) coal, (ii) jute textiles, (iv) cement, and (v) iron and steel.
Analysis of Evidence
22.28 Tripartite meetings provide a useful forum of communication between the parties represented on them. They help in narrowing clown differences among the three groups in reaching consensus over matters of common interest, in providing a forum for communication among the parties and in sharing the responsibility of Government in maintaining industrial harmony. The State Governments and employers' organisations endorse these views. The majority of the employers' organisations feel that such bodies will have a useful role, particularly with the formation of State Governments of different political shades. They add further that tripartite consultations could be more effective it each group represented at the tripartite had a better system of internal communication. According to them, part of the utility of such consultations is lost if they are used to pressurise one group or the other on matters which prove of disadvantage to the other. It happens that at times even the economy cannot sustain such pressurised agreements. Some public sector corporations have complained that the 'norms' settled in these meetings are agreed to in a casual manner. This view is to an extent supported by some of our Study Groups. Workers' representatives have pointed out difficulties in the implementation of tripartite conclusions. Several have even gone to the extent of stating that these conclusions have had no impact on workers' life. They have further suggested that discussions in the ILC/ SLC will not acquire seriousness of purpose, unless a special secretariat is set up to look after the implementation of tripartite recommendations and to collect and publish relevant information bearing on the concerned subject. To restore the faith of workers in the decisions of the tripartite, they have suggested that the recommendations should be given the force of law or at least treated as conventions which should be well publicised and accepted outside these bodies. This demand from workers has emerged out of the assurance given by the Government to employers' and workers' organisations at the inception of these bodies that the
Central Government would consider every suggestion made by the tripartite bodies, and that out of the decisions specifically taken by the ILC/SLC, unanimous conclusions and agreed recommendations should be binding on the parties.
22.29 Since third party intervention will continue for several years, the ILC/SLC, along with other tripartite consultative bodies, have an important role to play. Tripartite consultation has its value for setting uniform 'norms' to guide industrial relations. The ILC/SLC industrial committees which have been set up in recognition of this fact must remain advisory in character. The conclusions/recommendations reached by them should he treated as deserving every consideration for implementation. To give to all tripartite recommendations a statutory force will have serious difficulties, apart from marling the spirit of tripartite deliberations.
22.30 While the Government's desire to operate through a tripartite consensus is logical, in order to make the process of reaching consensus more consultative, the Government should restrict its influence on tripartite deliberations where it is likely to be considered as over-persuasive. It will certainly have valid reason, as Government, for reserving to itself decisions on strategic matters. Similarly, the workers' and employers' representatives have to continue their cautious attitude in reaching agreements. In this context, we suggest that tripartite decisions could be taken in two stages. There should be a preliminary but detailed discussion on any subject brought to the forum. The conclusions recorded at this preliminary discussion should he widely publicised and free comments on them encouraged. On the basis of these comments, the tripartite, in the second round of discussions, should frame its recommendations. What applies to the International Labour Conference can well have a parallel here.
22.31 It would he fair to concede that over the last 15 years, agreements in the more active industrial committees have reached even greater benefits to workers than the decisions of the ILC. It is also true that discussions at the ILC/SLC are influenced more by what happens in traditional industries and that too of a limited range. On the basis of this assessment of the achievements of the ILC/SLC and industrial committees, we suggest that the industrial committees should meet more often to examine specific issues connected with the concerned industries. Such general decisions as are taken in the ILC/SLC should be tested for their applicability in industrial committees and difficulties in implementation brought back to the general forum.
22.32 The present arrangement by which over hundred representatives gather for two days at a time for discussion of labour problems, whether in the ILC or SLC, does not seem to be conducive to reaching conclusions, 1 particularly when a major portion of the time is spent on a general discussion. The discussions should last longer and should be supported by a good deal of spade work in the Committees of the Conference. Specifically, the SLC should meet more often, and the ILC less frequently but for longer duration. Meetings should be called only when there are adequate agenda items to be discussed. A general discussion over economic issues has its place. Some time should be specially reserved for the purpose. But, such general debate should not he allowed to overshadow the main items.
22.33 It has been alleged that the tripartite has become less representative, particularly in regard to the labour representation on it. This inadequacy was sought to be met by giving special representation to groups which normally did not form part of the tripartite, but were brought in for discussion of specific issues. Even otherwise, the federations having the bask qualifications for entry into the tripartite are increasing in number. Labour representation on these bodies has to be thought out afresh. We go on the assumption that trade unions in the country have to be unified. On this assumption, giving representation to a large number of unions having different ideologies is likely to come in the way of attempts at unification. Representation at the ILC does give prestige to a federation and this prestige in effect may keep the federation away from reconciling its views with other federations represented in the tripartite. If a conscious attempt has to be made on all sides for a united trade union movement, the first step in the process would be a reduction in the number of federations. No one has suggested that the labour wing of the tripartite has not effectively brought to the forum the live problems of labour in the country as a whole. Reduction in the number of federations to he represented in the labour wing of the tripartite may raise eyebrows, but
1 Whiteley Commission's Recommendations, para 22 •16 above.
will not undermine the efficacy of conclusions. It can be achieved by progressively raising the minimum membership required to give representation to a federation at the ILC/SLC, say every three years. The membership of each of the federations can be scrutinised at the end of every three years in a manner acceptable to the federations and the representation renewed/ cancelled as permitted by the minimum membership conditions. As a first step, we suggest that representation at the tripartite should be restricted to those central organisations only which have a membership of at least 10 per cent of the unionised labour force in the country. There should be a review every throe years to accord representation to organisations on this basis, but with the object of weeding out weaker federations to promote organisational solidarity.
22.34 The employers' representation at the tripartite forums too will have to be modified accordingly to maintain parity. Two of the three central organisations of employers represented at the ILC/SLC have already confederated for certain purposes into the Council of Indian Employers though they are still separately represented at the ILC/SLC. If the remaining organisation also gets affiliated to the Council, the latter can be represented at the ILC/SLC as the sole spokesman of employers. Alternatively, a similar method as proposed by us for representation of labour can be adopted for employers' representation as well.
22.35 The method of representation as suggested above will require a more elaborate communication system within the organisations representing the two sides at the ILC/SLC. That alone will help them to be increasingly representative of workers and employers and improve the effectiveness of the tripartite forums.
22.36 The work of the ILC/SLC, particularly because of the desire of employers and workers to be associated with supervising implementation, will acquire a complexity. To deal with it as a part of normal administration in the Labour Ministry has its disadvantages. There is at present a separate cell in the Labour Ministry for the purpose, but doubts have been expressed about its effectiveness in coordinating the information required for these forums. We recommend that a fairly senior officer of the Labour Ministry should be designated as Secretary to the Conference. He should have adequate staff support; his functions will be to project and meet the informational needs of the ILC/SLC and industrial committees as well as to coordinate the information available.