National Commission on Labour (1967)||
Under the existing law, the expression "trade union' includes both employers' and workers' organisations. We discuss the various aspects of this subject in this and the following chapter. In the first we cover the topics such as growth of trade unions, their structure and pattern, their finances and their role and functions, as well as the more controversial issues like outsiders in a union and inter-union rivalry. The problems which unions in this country have been facing for the last twenty years are many and varied. Some of them are of their own making; others are the product of an inadequate policy pursued by Government in the matter of trade union organisation. The law which permitted unions to be formed did not go beyond conferring on them certain minimum rights after registration. the more important right, the right of recognition, except in some State legislation, has been given to unions only through a voluntary code.1
20.1 Employers' organisations, their growth, structure and functions, and the role they should play form the subject matter of the next chapter. Workers' organisations and employers' organisations have to play a complementary role. They have many common problems, particularly those involving communication between the organisation and its members, enforcement of discipline, education of members and the like. Employers' organisations can be registered as trade unions and indeed several are so registered. In what follows, whatever is said about trade unions of workers will also apply mutatis mutandis to employers' organisations.
20.2 The main elements in the development of trade unions of workers (unions) in every country have been more or less the same. The setting up of large-scale industrial units created conditions of widespread use of machinery, establishment of new lines of production, changes in working and living environments of workers, and concentration of industries in large towns, all of which introduced a new class of workers who were dependent on wages for their livelihood. They were at a disadvantage in an age when the doctrine of laissez faire held the field. In the absence of collective action, they had to be content with the wages which each one of them could separately negotiate with his employer from a position of disadvantage. Protests by individual workers could have no effect in such circumstances, because of a plentiful supply of labour. Workers had to join together, at least to maintain, if not to improve, their bargaining power against the employer. Where joint action was inadequate, the sanction which workers evolved was joint withdrawal from work. Recognition by the community of this right to combine, organise for collective action and withhold labour, was a long and painful process everywhere; but perhaps less so in India. Unions have now come to symbolise (i) workers' right to organise, and (ii) their right to press their demand collectively and to go on strike if their claims are not accepted.
20.3 Labour protests on an organised scale were not unknown in India prior to the First World War, 1914—1918. Organised action by workers was reported in the first fourteen years of this century in many parts of the country; in some it was in response to the demands of the workers, in others the motive was political. Although by the end of the 19th century modern industry had secured for itself a place in the economic life of the community, the other part of the industry, viz., workers who were sweating from sunrise to sunset in dingy insanitary factories to keep the machines moving, had received no attention. Some social and welfare workers tried to organise labour, but there was no unionisation in the real sense.
20.4 Workers organised themselves to press their demands, but by and large, it was only in those cases where they could evoke public sympathy that they succeeded; and such sympathy was hard to come by. Several cases of concerted action in many industrial centres —notably Bombay, Calcutta, Kanpur—are on record. Two important struggles by workers in Ahmedabad and Madras have been referred to in an earlier chapter.2 The establishment in 1919 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) had its influence on the growth of unions in the country. While some unions
1 The reference here is to the Code of Discipline, the origin and the working of which are discussed elsewhere. See Paras 24.16 to 24.22. 2 See Paras 6.42-6-43 & 6.44-6.45.
chose to operate independently and confined their activities to an industrial centre/unit, others felt the need for coordination of their activities at the national level. A section of the Indian working class thought in terms of the even wider international unity of the working class through the opportunity offered by the ILO. The formation in 1920 of an All-India Federation, viz., the All-India Trade Union Congress, was the result of all these urges. The passing of the Trade Unions Act, 1926 gave formal recognition to the workers' right to organise. It also encouraged the further growth of the movement in the years following as would be seen in the table below.
TABLE 20.1 : No. of Trade Unions and Membership (Employers and Workers) 1928—35
|Year||No. of registered unions||Total membership|
20.5 The continued efforts of the working class to make itself heard earned for it a voice in the legislative councils through nomination both at the Centre and in the Provinces. The Whitley Commission, discussing the then arrangements, recommended election in place of nomination, the details of election being left to the Provincial Governments to be worked out.'
20.6 The setting up of popular Governments in the Provinces in the late thirties under the Government of India Act, 1935, the Second World War, and the advent of Independence quickened the pace of growth of the unions. The years since Independence, particularly the period 1947—1957, witnessed a rapid increase in the number of unions, an increase brought about by a variety of factors such as the changed outlook towards labour organisations, the new spirit of awakening in the country, and the economic distress that followed the war years. The desire of political parties to help labour, as much as to seek help from it, was also a contributory factor. The table below gives the trend of growth of unions during the last four decades.
TABLE 20.2: Number and Membership of Trade Unions (Employers & Workers)
|Year||No. of registered unions||No. of unions sub meeting returns||Total membership (in lakhs)||Average membership per union 2|
Source; (i) Labour Management Relations in India: Subramanyam, K. N. (1957 pp 62. & 68.)
(ii) Indian Labour Statistics, and
(iii) Indian Labour Year Books.
1 Report of the Royal Commission on Labour in India, pp. 461-464.
2 Average membership per union has been obtained by dividing the total membership by the number of unions submitting returns.
20.7 This increase in the number of unions and their membership, however, does not reflect their real strength. Considering that the average union membership has shown a gradual decline from 1026 in 1947-48, to 568 in 1955-56, and to 549 in 1963-64, the increase in the number would seem to suggest rather a splitting of unions or their inability to absorb workers in new units.
20.8 As could be seen from the table below, as many as 73.2 per cent of the unions had a membership below 300 in 1964-65 and accounted for only 12.4 per cent of the total membership. At the other end, only about 131 unions representing 1.7 per cent of the total number of unions had a membership of over 5,000 each; and these accounted for 47.8 per cent of the total membership. The data indicate that unions are too small to be viable and haw little following. We do not have later statistics, but indications are that the situation has not substantially changed in this respect.
TABLE 20. 3: Frequency Distribution of Trade Unions submitting returns according to membership during 1964—65.
|Membership of Unions||
Membership at the end of the year
|Absolute Number||Percentage to the total number||Cumulative total of col. 3||Absolute Number||Percentage to the total number||Cumulative total of col. 6|
|Below 50 ......||1,733||23-0||23.0||51,294||1.1||1.1|
|1,000 to 1,999 .....||314||4.2||95.6||4,39,270||9.8||38.9|
|2,000 to 4,999 .....||204||2.7||98.3||5,95,110||13.3||52.2|
|5,000 to 9,999 .....||70||0.9||99.2||4,49,661||10.1||62.3|
|10,000 to 19,999 . . . .||32||0.4||99.6||4,46,937||10.0||72.3|
|20,000 and above ....||29||0.4||100.0||12,35,769||27.7||100.0|
|TOTAL . . . .||7,519*||100.0||••||44,66,282||100.0|
* Though 7,543 unions submitted returns, membership figures were available for 7,519 unions only.
Source: Labour Bureau, Simla.
20.9 According to a reliable estimate,1 the proportion of union members to the total number of workers in 1962-63 could be placed at about 24 per cent in sectors other than agriculture. If workers in agriculture are included, the percentage of organised labour will fall considerably.2 The degree of unionisation varied widely from industry to industry; it was 51 per cent in mining and 37 per cent to 39 per cent in transport and communications, manufacturing industries, and electricity and gas. Industries with a high rate of unionisation are: coal (61 per cent), tobacco manufacture (75 per cent), cotton-textiles (56 per cent), iron and steel (63 per cent), banks (51 per cent), insurance (33 per cent), railways (33 per cent) and plantations 28 per cent).
Central Organisations of Workers
20.10 The events which led to the setting up of the AITUC have been referred to already.
1 Paper prepared by the Ministry of Labour and Employment for the Asian Labour Ministers' Conference (January 1969). 2 Trade Union membership as proportion of the total labour force in some industrially advanced countries is; USA. —22%; U.K. 40% ; Federal Republic of Germany--26%; Japan—20%; Italy—35%; Sweden—54%.
Source: Economist, 9-10-1968
For some time, the organisation worked as a strong united body. A section of its leadership had revolutionary urges. When in 1929 this leadership gained majority in the AITUC and captured both its General Council and the Executive Committee, those who opposed this development seceded and formed the All-India Trade Union Federation. Describing the situation obtaining in the late twenties, the Whitley Commission observed that the position of the trade union movement as a whole was still unstable, and that much would depend on the course of development in the succeeding years. Splits and mergers, for reasons-not necessarily relevant to the working -class, became a common feature of the trade union movement in the thirties. By 1946, the AITUC came under the control of the group whose approach for securing better terms and conditions of work for labour and for settlement of disputes differed radically from that of other labour leadership in the country. When attempts to restructure the AITUC failed, those believing in the aims and ideals other than those of the AITUC separated from that organisation and established the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) in the year 1947.
20.11 As the INTUC had, since the beginning, shared and' supported the political outlook of the Indian National Congress, its popular image was identified with that of the Congress. When the socialist group broke away from the Congress in 1948 and formed a new political party, the socialist trade union leaders who were operating within the INTUC seceded from it and formed a new central trade union organisation called the Hind Mazdoor Panchayat. This organisation and the Indian Federation of Labour formed during the Second World War came together under the title of the Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS) in the year 1948. Some splinter groups from the HMS and the AITUC set up a separate organisation, viz., the United Trades Union Congress (UTUC). The respective growth and strength of the four central organisations on the basis of the latest data available are shown in the table below :
TABLE 20.4: Verified Membership of the Four Central Trade Union Organisations1
|Year||INTUC||AITUC||HMS||UTUC||Total verified membership|
1 Trade Unions in India —A paper prepared by the Ministry of Labour and Employment (1969). NOTE. —figures in brackets indicate percentage to total verified membership.
20.12 Government have recognised these four central organisations of workers for the purpose of representation at national and international conferences and for occasional consultations Besides these four, some new federation which have come into existence since the fifties, particularly the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) formed in the year 1955 and the Hind Mazdoor Panchayat (HMP) which into existence in 1965, are now claiming recognition to be represented at consultative forums set up by Government at the Centre and in the States.
20.13 The trade union movement in India has long been associated with the two international trade union federations, viz., the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) formed in the year 1946 and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU)
set up in the year 1949. In these international forums, Indian trade union leaders have been the spokesmen for developing countries in general and Asian labour in particular. The ICFTU has been. running an Asian Trade Union College in India since Independence. This College has been active in getting together union organisers from Asian countries and taking them through a detailed course of training based on experience of the trade union movement in the Asian region. The College publishes a journal for the benefit of trade union organisers in Asia. The WFTU has also drawn considerably on Indian experience in formulating policies in regard to the trade union movement in newly-independent countries and in matters relating to economic development. It organises occasional seminars and discussion groups for analysing problems of unions in developing countries.
20.14 The pattern and structure of unions and the basis on which they are organised do not admit of any simple generalisation. Unions in different countries have .developed on different lines, depending on social and economic compulsions of industrialisation, political and historical factors, and the institutional framework of the respective societies. For instance, in the U.K. where unions grew out of the guild system, the occupation/trade became the baas of workers getting together for collective action. Australian experience is similar. In the U.S.A., workers are members of local unions, most of which are affiliated to national unions covering an occupation or an industry. In the U.S.S.R., trade unions are organised on an industry basis; all persons employed in a factory or establishment belong to one union, and at the higher levels, each industry union comprises unions of one branch of the national economy. French, Italian and Belgian unions are divided not only on industry/plant basis bat also have strong religious denominations. 'Enterprise4 is the basis of union structure in Japan. About 85 per cent of the unions covering 80 per cent of the total membership in Japan are confined to a single unit/establishment or enterprise.
20.15 It is true', that over the years, in no country has the union structure remained static; in its attempt to adjust to national situations, the trade union movement has undergone changes. Government intervention has played a significant role in giving a direction to unions and in the restructuring of unions; its impact again has varied from country to country.
20.16 The experience in India has not been different though the ordeals through which unions in other countries had to pass were spared for our unions in the early years because of the protective arm of the State. Even so, cases ace on record where union organisers had to suffer indignities at the hands of employers and penalties through State action. While the broad pattern of organisation has been small unit-wise unions locally federated at the area or national level, variations in .structure and pattern do exist. Formation of plant level unions covering different departments, was the trend in the early stages. When the bulk of labour consisted of manual workers with little difference in skills and with equal deed for protection and/or improvement in conditions of work, organisation on a plant basis covering all workmen was a necessity. Their welding together into larger industry-wise/area-wise unions has been a later development. In a few cases, however, the process was reversed in the sense that the formation of an industry-wise union or a union for the working class at a centre led to workers in a unit in the industry at a particular centre getting organised. In some specialised employments, craft unions have also been built up.
20.17 Industrial unions have been organised mainly as a result of the need felt by workers in one industry at a given centre to come together on a common platform. The main reason for the development of such industry-cum-centre unions has been the concentration of certain industries in particular areas; a contributory cause has been organisation on the part of the employers in those centres. For instance, textile workers in Bombay, Ahmedabad, Kanpur and Indore, plantation labour in Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and jute mill workers in West Bengal, got organised on this basis. Engineering workers in Calcutta, Bombay and other important centres, workers engaged in chemical and pharmaceutical industries in Bombay and Baroda, and transport workers in many States are other instances in point. Provisions in the industrial relations legislation in certain States permitting recognition of industry-wise unions in a given area have helped the growth of industry-cum-centre unions. At the all-India level, with the setting up of institutions like the wage boards and the tripartite industrial committees, and with greater scope given by Government- for formal or informal consultations in the formulation and implementation of policy, the older industry-wise unions have acquired strength and many new ones have been formed. Federations of workers engaged
in cotton textiles, cement, engineering, iron and steel, plantations, sugar, coal, oil refining and distribution, chemicals, banks, insurance, railways, post and telegraph and defence establishments are instances of organisations at the all-India level which have either strengthened or have newly come into existence to meet workers' needs. Workers in ports and docks are also organised on an all-India basis. In respect of some industries, there is not one union but more than one, and these are either affiliated to different all-India federations or exist on their own. Some have been sponsored by the central organisations themselves as their specialised agencies for the industries concerned. The advantages of organising industry-wise unions are: (i) the facility that they afford for collective bargaining, (ii) introduction of a measure of uniformity in the principles governing all aspects of working conditions and (iii) reconciliation of sectional claims of different levels of workers within an industry.
2O.18 Although unions covering all workers without distinction of craft or category, either at the plant or industry level, are now the general pattern, craft unions have also come up in air transport, in some sections of ports i and docks, and in industrial units based on modern technology. Skilled workers in these industries find or apprehend that their interests will not be protected by a general purpose union. They argue that the increasing complexity of modern industry makes it difficult for industry-wise unions to function effectively and smoothly and that the growth of technology and new skills demand craft unions to serve such specialised interests. Lack of homogeneity and rivalries between workers belonging to different craft groups have also prompted formation of separate associations.
20.19 We are conscious that unions being democratic and voluntary institutions, the basis on which a union should be organised is a matter to be determined by workers themselves, in the light of their own needs and experience. We also recognise that unions regard this right as basic to their democratic functioning. The political environment within which unions work, and the wider range of services which their members will require them to provide also influence their structure. It is, therefore, not our intention to draw up a scheme for structural reform of unions. They have to grow according to the dictates of their members, but within the constraints set on them by the laws of the land. We indicate, however, the desirable lines of future development, more as a guide to thinking within union membership, so that the evolution of unions could be complementary to the recommendations we make.
20.20 The first question which comes to our mind is the size of unions. As pointed out earlier, our unions, by and large, are small in size. Even though we recognise that small unions could be well knit, there will be a minimum size below which a union will not be viable. No hard and fast rule to draw the line of demarcation is possible, much less can there be a regulation to prevent the existence of non-viable unions. We expect, however, that our recommendation on recognition of a union as bargaining agent will reduce multiplicity of unions at the plant level and help in the growth of viable unions.
20.21 The Indian Labour Conference, which discussed in 1964 the subject of category-wise craft unions, concluded that their formation should be discouraged. The evidence before us supports this view. Several of our study groups have come to the same conclusion. According to one, "it is necessary to take steps to ensure that craft unionism does not degenerate into fragmentation of unions and thereby bring about the evils of inter-union and intra-union rivalries". Several central organisations of workers have also expressed opposition to formation of unions on a department/craft basis. We consider that with most unions confined to a single plant, the advantage of mobility which craft unions may provide to their members will be illusory. On the other hand, the disadvantages of having to bargain with too many unions in one plant are not likely to be minimised if craft unions are allowed to function in addition to plant and industry-wise unions. While we appreciate the argument that demands of skilled categories are not at times properly sponsored by the general union, craft unions as a rule should be discouraged. We, therefore, recommend that the craft unions operating in a unit/industry should be encouraged to amalgamate into an industrial union. In the alternative, where an industrial union covering all categories of workers in an enterprise has been recognised as the sole bargaining agent, it would be desirable for such a union to set up sub-committees for important crafts/occupations so that problems peculiar to them receive adequate attention. For these arrangements to work, the process of internal decision-making should be such that members belonging to any craft do not nurse the feeling that their claims go unrepresented.
20.22 We take cognizance of the welcome development in the formation of centre-cum-industry unions and industry-wise national
unions. The evidence before us is in favour of this trend. State Governments and important organisations of workers, as also several Study Groups, favour the view that centre -cum-industry unions are desirable and that they should ultimately develop into national federations, one for each industry—a goal worth striving for. Formation of such national industrial federations should be encouraged, as these will be more effective at collective bargaining forums and also as agencies to which educational and research activities for the benefit of the workers, in the concerned industries could be en-trusted
20.23 Reduction in the number of workers' organisations at the State and the apex levels is also called for. [his is a development which can come about only if various political parties and trade unions sponsored and controlled by them could come to some understanding as a basis for their common programme, or better still, if the workers themselves become sufficiently educated to avoid multiplicity of unions and unite into one strong union at the industry/ plant level and affiliate themselves into a single national centre. We are conscious of the difficulties in this regard. Union leaders in different. groups at present question both the need for and feasibility of a common programme. unless the means to further the interests of the working class are also agreed upon. Any action on the part of the State to force the pace in this matter is likely to meet with adverse reaction. In a democratic set-up, unity among trade unions cannot be imposed from outside; it has to come from within. Certain moves have been afoot in recent years to bring together various national federations, but without much success. Current altitudes of different trade union organisations and political parties to this problem are rigid and each is anxious to preserve its own identity. This Is so in spite of a fair amount of unanimity with regard to the goals of the working class movement and its organisations; the differences being confined mainly to the methods to be adopted. A major difficulty in the evolution of a single working class organisation in the country is the association, formal or informal, of different central organisations with various political parties who regard the former as a major source of their strength. We hope that our suggestion elsewhere, regarding a minimum membership qualification for a national federation to be represented at tripartite/consultative bodies set up by the Central/State Governments, may help this process of unification.
20.24 The primary source of income of the unions is the membership dues. The quantum of these dues often depends upon the functions undertaken by a union and the financial needs arising therefrom. Apart from regular monthly/quarterly contributions from members, there are other sources of funds such as donations, sale proceeds of periodicals and special collections. Available data on the income and expenditure of unions over the years leaves one in no doubt that, with few exceptions, the financial position of the unions is generally weak. As a consequence, many unions are unstable, often winding up their activities even before they settle down to sustained work. Though the unions lose registration because of non-compliance with statutory provisions, the non-compliance itself is closely linked with lack of funds. It has been accepted on all sides that many unions are not in a position to maintain a regular establishment to provide adequate services to their members.
20.25 As would be seen from the table below, the average annual income of unions has hardly shown any improvement over the past 20 years.
TABLE: 20.5 Average Annual Income and Expenditure of Trade Unions (of workers only)
|Year||No. of unions submitting returns||Average membership
|Average income per
per union Rs.
|1947-48 . . . .||1580||1045||2,335||1,867|
|1951-52 . . . .||2509||750||2,026||1,806|
|1955-56 . . .||3970||570||2,089||1,639|
|1960-61 . . . .||6717||590||2,279||2,078|
|1963-64 . . . .||7106||560||2,747||2,367|
|1964-65 . . . .||7380||602||3,195||2,751|
Source: Indian Labour Statistics 1969 and Indian Labour Year Books.
1 See Para 22.33
It is clear that through the average annual union income shows a slight improvement in money terms, when viewed in the context of the general increase in prices including the cost of services, the real income of unions has actually fallen. There could be some satisfaction that income and expenditure per member has gone up; but, judging from the level of expenditure at which the unions operated in 1947-48, this gain also is negligible. The composition of union income has not changed materially. As would be expected, the bulk of union funds came from membership dues throughout the period under review. In 1964-65, membership contribution accounted for 72.5 per cent of the total income, donations for 15.1 per cent, and sale of periodicals and interest on investment for 1.4 per cent. The balance constituted miscellaneous receipts. In 1947-48, the annual income came to about Rs. 2 per member; in 1960-61 this was near Rs. 4 and in 1964-65 about Rs. 5. The composition of expenditure has not changed by and large. Expenditure on salaries and allowances and establishment charges accounted for 40.9 per cent of the total expenditure in 1956 and for 46.8 per cent in 1964-65. Expenditure on social service benefits to workers remained at a low level, 3.7 per cent in 1956 and 4.2 per cent in 1964-65. All these statistics will appear even more distressing if due allowance is made for the fact that most of this limited expenditure is accounted for by the larger unions i.e., unions with a membership of 10,000 or more; and these are few in number. Assuming that the average income of a union per member is the same in small as in large unions i.e., about Rs. 5 per annum, it is roughly estimated that the income of 23 per cent of unions in 1964-65 was less than Rs. 250, of 44 per cent less than 500 and of 73 per cent less than Rs. 1,500. Obviously, these unions could hardly render adequate service to their members.
20.26 In our view, therefore, an important factor limiting the effective functioning of unions in our country has been their financial weakness. There is clear recognition of this fact in the evidence before us. In most unions, poor finances have been the result of inadequate membership strength. This, in turn, can be traced to the small size of units. In a majority of unions, the rate of contributions required of members is also small. With a relatively low rate of unionisation, total funds collected are small. It is also on record that in a multi-union situation where workers are attracted to the unions by low subscription rates, the minimum prescribed under law becomes the rule; union organisers generally do not claim anything higher nor do workers feel like contributing more, because the services rendered by the unions do not deserve a higher fee. One thus enters a vicious circle. It is not uncommon to find, particularly in small size unions, that union fees, even at these low rates, are not regularly paid by members in spite of the energy and time the union officebearers spend in collecting them. We do not suggest that this is the picture obtaining in all unions. Some are, indeed, very well organised; their members report to the union offices for paying their subscriptions. Others have adequate arrangements for regular collection of dues. But the general picture of finances of unions is disappointing.
20.27 It may be that the Indian worker is not adequately paid, but this does not appear to be the reason for his apathy towards the organisation which is built up by him. Except in some cases, his approach still is one of lack of firm commitment to the union. There have been many instances where a worker, while being in arrears in respect of union dues, makes ad hoc payments to the union much larger in amount than union dues, for getting a grievance redressed or for establishing a common adjudication claim. It is not possible to say whether the change has been conditioned by the current legislation for settlement of workers' grievances, and if so, to what extent. But this is one of the reasons advanced in the evidence before us. We believe that the suggestions we have made elsewhere for recognition of unions and for settlement of disputes, wherein due scope has been given to collective bargaining, will strengthen the worker's loyalties to his union, and in the process, union finances will improve. The provision for recognition of the majority union as the sole bargaining agent would help reduce multiplicity of unions, the splitting of union membership and undercutting of union dues. Rights to be given to a union as the sole bargaining agent under certain conditions would help them to grow in prestige and attract new membership. We also expect that the unions will be able to carry conviction with workers who, in the years to come, will be more literate and more alive to the utility of an effective organisation. There will be a realisation that workers can sustain unions only through their subscriptions. When a worker makes a reasonable payment to his union, he is more likely to take an active interest in the affairs and activities of the union. The current arrangements by which a genuine union organiser has to attend to many unions in order to earn even a modest living and
hence is unable to devote adequate attention to all the unions he is instrumental in organising, will have to be gradually replaced by each union having its own full-time officials.
20.28 Several persons/agencies have suggested prescription of a minimum membership fee higher than that prevailing at present. The suggested fee varies from 50 paise per month to one per cent of earnings. A view expressed equally categorically is that what a union should collect from its members is entirely a matter for the members to decide and that the union being a voluntary organisation, no outside agency should lay down the minimum that it should charge from its members by way of subscription. We are not convinced by this latter argument. If a union through registration seeks legal protection for some of its actions, it is the right of the State which provides this protection to lay down reasonable regulations which will make proper functioning of the unions possible. This is an accepted premise of the trade union law in this country. The Trade Unions Act, 1926, has a clause for prescribing the minimum membership fee (now 25 paise per month) 1. The question before us is whether this minimum membership fee should be a fixed sum or tied to a worker's earnings. A minimum of 1 per cent of earnings has been mentioned to us in the course of evidence. In examining this issue, we realise that in many advanced countries union fees in effect amount to more than this percentage, but they are seldom related to the worker's earnings and generally there is a flat rate of payment. We have also been told that several unions in India, which are functioning well, have been collecting one per cent or even more by way of membership fees. But such unions are still few; and in their case too, the fee is uniform. A flat rate is easier to understand, as also to realise. The idea of different amounts within each slab for the same group of workers, and that is what the fixing of a percentage rate will amount to, does not find favour with many unions. We, therefore, do not recommend a percentage basis for union dues.
20.29 In statutorily prescribing the minimum subscription for union membership, we recognise that mere registration does not confer any special rights on a union vis-a-vis the employer. At the same time, since registration of a union is a condition precedent for enabling it to secure the recognised status, membership subscription for a registered union has its importance. Con-sidering all these factors and the prevailing level of prices, we recommend that the mini mum fee for trade union membership should be raised from the present level of 25 paise per month to Re. 1 per month.
20.30 In our opinion, the primary functions of a union is to promote and protect the interests of its members. The union draws it strength from the funds and general support provided by its members. It has, therefore, to strive to better the terms and conditions of employment and generally to advance their economic and social interests so as to achieve for them a rising standard of living. Welfare activities like organising mutual benefit societies, co-operatives, employment assistance, libraries, games and cultural programmes are on aspect of union functions. Education of its members in all aspects of their working life including improvement of their civic environments, will be another. These have been recognised as the normal activities of a union in the Trade Unions Act 1926, which stipulate the objects on which the general funds of union can be spent. These primary functions lead the union to areas not specifically within its confines.
20.31 In every society it has been recognise that in discharging the basic functions, unions have to operate on many fronts: social, economic, civic and political. To the extent possible, they have to influence policy decisions in the interests of workers and also explain t their members the limits within which their interests can be served by the union. Legislative support which the unions require for realisation of some of their objectives and achievement of their long-term interests takes them into the region of politics. They have to formulate a stand on social and economic objectives of the community/country as a whole, an participate in activities to make their view point heard in the policy making bodies so that the choices eventually made and the priorities adopted subserve the best interests of the workers. Of late, trade unions are not content to rest merely with their contribution in framing policies; their experience has bee that once the policies are framed, their implementation has also to be diligently watched Unions have come to realise that unless the
1 "It is felt that a membership fee of at least four annas a month be prescribed in the rules of a trade union as a condition precedent if it desires registration as a recognised union". (Second Plan, p. 573); this recommendation of the Section Plan was given effect to by the Act, No. 42 of 1960.
voice and weight is brought to bear upon the Government, the workers' interests are likely to suffer. In several countries, therefore, the political process of Government and participation in it have been attracting the interests of unions increasingly. Whether a union should get directly associated with a political party or have its own wing would depend upon the circumstances in each country. Considering that such political action/association is legitimate, the Trade Unions Act, 1926 permits the constitution of a separate fund to facilitate political action by a union.
20.32 We do not take a static view of the role which trade unions have to accept in the larger interests of the community. In every country, this role has to change depending upon the stage of economic and social development. It also depends on the strength of unions, both organisational and financial, and also to a great extent on the institutional set-up of the society in which they operate. In the early Stages of their growth, unions in many countries concerned themselves primarily with their members' interests, but took on wider functions in due course.
20.33 Participation of unions now ranges from joint consultation at the plant/industry level to work on bodies like the Economic and Social Council in France, the Planning Commission in Sweden, or the Economic Council in Denmark. Contacts with governmental authorities are less formal in the U.S.A. and Australia. In a number of countries, the law specifies the activities that unions may engage in. In practice, however, the unions' freedom to enlarge on these is not restricted. In France and the Netherlands, unions, according to law, are consulted on any draft legislation dealing with economic and social issues. In Sweden and the Netherlands, they are made responsible for the implementation of the labour and social security legislation. The experience of co-determination in the Federal Republic of Germany and workers' control over industrial establishments in Yugoslavia fall within the range of responsibilities of unions in the different countries, mentioned above.
20.34 Thus, while a union will function in the interests of its members, depending upon the strength of organised labour and labour which could be organised, it should also accept community responsibilities. Consciousness of this wider responsibility will vary from country to country depending upon the extent of wage employment. Where wage earners are a predominant section of the working force, no special responsibilities in regard to the community can devolve on unions. Where, as in our country, self-employment is sizeable, unions have to make a special effort in understanding the interests of the total community. It is being widely suggested that unions should seek to harmonise the sectional interests of their members with the larger interests of the society. This aspect of the role of unions in a developing economy has been emphasised in our successive five year plans. As the Third Plan observed, "there is need for a considerable readaptation in the outlook, functions and practices of trade unions to suit the conditions which have arisen and are emerging".1 Unions, being the organised expression of the working class, have to shoulder this urgent task. It is in recognition of this fact that in India trade unions have been associated with nation building activities since long. The very first Planning Advisory Board, constituted in 1950 to advise the Planning Commission on matters of policy, had two labour representatives on it. Subsequently, labour representatives have been associated with the Development Councils set up for individual industries as also with apex consultative bodies formed by Government for seeking advice on problems of industrial development. The association of organised labour with tripartite bodies at the Central and State levels in the formulation and implementation of labour programmes has had a longer history still.
20.35 In their evidence, some unions have shown an awareness of this responsibility. Others, while recognising the need for it, have argued that in the present state of development of unions when (i) they are confined largely to the urban industrial sector, (ii) a vast section of labour employed in agricultural and small industries is still outside the pale of union influence, (iii) levels of living, wages and working conditions of workers are to be protected and improved, (iv) several unions compete for the loyalty of workers and (v) unions have also to contend against unhelpful, if not antagonistic, employers, needs of sheer survival will force unions to give priority to the immediate sectional interests of workers. As an analysis of the present situation both these views seem to be valid, though for some of the obstacles mentioned in the latter view, the remedy would seem to lie with the unions themselves.
1 Third Five Year Plan, p. 255.
20.36 The immediate interests of a group of workers and of the community at large may sometimes conflict, though there can be no such conflict in the long run. Even in the short run, the sectional goals must be reconciled with the community goals. 'The process of achieving reconciliation of interests depends upon the creation of an awareness of the identity between the two. Unfortunately, such an awareness of the identity of interests appears to be still lacking in the country and the evidence before us is conflicting in regard to its need and urgency. Employers' organisations, for understandable reasons, have shown reluctance in expressing their views on the subject. While State Governments favour some reorientation of trade union functions, most of the workers' organisations have emphasised only the traditional role of unions. The INTUC while acknowledging the need for adequate attention to fulfilling the traditional role, of unions, has suggested that unions should (i) serve their membership and cater to the many-sided requirements of workers as responsible citizens; (ii) plan for sustaining the interests of their membership during times of industrial peace by organising intellectual, social, cultural and recreational activities, consumer co-operatives, credit co-operatives and co-operative housing societies; and (iii) educate the rank and file so that the traditional agitational role should gradually be transformed into one of understanding. It has pleaded that the union should be given an' effective role in the affairs of the industry, including in its management as co-partner in industry. The other view is equally cogently put forth-by the HMS when it points out that "if the trade unions allow themselves to be diverted from their traditional role in the name of requirements of economic development, the weaker and exploited sections of the working class will find themselves terrorised and deprived of safeguards to an even greater extent". The AITUC strikes a different note altogether. In its view, "the ultimate aim of the trade union movement is to abolish capitalism and wage-slavery and establish socialism in which not only the working class but all layers of society are freed from exploitation To evoke proper response from unions, it suggests a wide range of institutional changes. Other central organisations have indicated views which He between these extremes.
20.37 The trade union .movement, which we expect will evolve on the basis of changes in its structure recommended earlier, has indeed to pay greater attention to the basic needs of its members. Important among these are
(1) To secure for workers fair wages;
(2) To safeguard security of tenure and improve conditions of service;
(3) To enlarge opportunities for promotion and training;
(4) To improve working and living conditions;
(5) To provide for educational, cultural and recreational facilities;
(6) To cooperate in and facilitate technological advance by broadening the understanding of workers on its underlying issues;
(7) To promote identity of interests of the workers with their industry;
(8) To offer responsive co-operation in removing levels of production and productivity, discipline and high standard of quality; and generally
(9) To promote individual and collective welfare.
20.38 At the same time, it is imperative that unions keep the well-being and progress of the community constantly before them even in the midst of their endeavours to help the working class. Unions have a stake in the success of the national plans for economic development, since these are formulated and implemented as much for maximising production as for distributing the product in an equitable manner. Unions have to adapt themselves to changing social needs, and rise above divisive forces of caste, religion and language; and indeed, in this regard, the role of the unions has been creditable. It is only thus that they can progressively become instruments for constructive purposes. In this context, some important social responsibilities of trade unions appear to be in the field of:
(i) promotion of national integration;
(ii) generally influencing the socio-economic policies of the community through active participation in their formulation at various levels, and
(iii) instilling in their members a sense of responsibility towards industry and the community.
20.39 We believe that real progress in trade union functioning, in the unions ability to assume social responsibilities and in their capacity to reconcile their responsibilities to their members with those to the community can come only through the building up of the internal strength of the unions. It will he the task
of the trade union leadership to improve the range of their services as much as the method of operation with these ends in view.
20.40 To put the current debate about outsiders in unions in its proper perspective, we must state that the trade union movement in the country has been built up, particularly in its early stages, by leaders committed to the well-being of the working class, but who seldom belonged to it and were often engaged in political struggle against the alien rule. Since Independence, many of them have identified themselves completely with labour; some others have been engaged in political activity entirely and still others continue to work both in the political and labour fields. It is therefore not easy to identify the outsiders in trade unions in our context. Under the Trade Unions Act, 1926, any person not actually engaged or employed in the industry concerned is deemed to be an outsider. Section 22 of the Act requires that ordinarily not less than half the officers of a registered union shall be actively engaged or employed in an industry to which the union relates. "Officers" include the members of the executive.
20.41 The controversy about outsiders in a union is as old as the Act itself, perhaps even older. Upto 1920, Government, while permitting unions/associations of their own employees, did not allow outsiders to be connected with such unions/associations. Explaining the position the Whitley Commission stated: "the official position had been defined with a view to the pre-war organisations which catered mainly for the upper ranks of Government service and in 1920 the Government of India conceded the principle of the right to employ outsiders".1 The Commission then analysed the legal provision under the Trade Unions Act, 1926, and even in the very early years of its operation, emphasised the need for training insiders for accepting greater responsibilities in managing union affairs. It recommendded "in view of the desirability of securing that the members of a union take an active part in its work, we consider that two-thirds would be a more suitable minimum" (for insiders).2 No action was taken on this recommendation.
20.42 Neither the nature of the controversy nor its keenness has changed in the last forty years. Those opposed to outsiders find that it is necessary even to narrow the scope of the definition of outsider so as to exclude particularly those who are discharged or dismissed. There are others who emphasise current employment status (i.e., whether the person is currently employed in a unit/industry or not) to determine whether the person is an insider or outsider. The argument of the union organisers is that anyone who has devoted his life to union work and has been a full-time union worker, whether he had ever worked as an employee in an industry or not, should not be treated as an outsider. The contention that an outsider is more prone to cause disturbance of industrial peace is rebutted, according to them, by the experience that unions with insider leadership have not shown any special concern for industrial harmony. For an employer, in many cases, the objection to an outsider is in essence an objection to particular individuals e.g., dismissed employees or politicians. While a dismissed employee working as a union leader is alleged to create difficulties in the relations between the union and the employer, the presence of outsiders who have close links with one political party or the other, it is argued, imports extraneous considerations into the trade union movement as a whole. Such outsiders are stated to have worked against trade union unity. Multiple unions are mainly the result of political outsiders wanting to establish unions of their own, with a view to increasing their political influence, albeit in urban areas. Essentially, the allegations against outsiders have remained unchanged all through the years since the publication of the Whitley Commission's report. As pointed out earlier, in the years immediately prior to and since Independence, open differences in trade union leadership led initially to the formation of four different central organisations of workers; their number has increased now. While no central organisation would like to accept that it has direct links with any political party, their political associations and party lines of action are sharp in public image. In more recent years, splinter groups within political parties have resulted in intra-union rivalries and these, more than inter-union differences, seem to establish links between political parties and trade unions.
20.43 To understand the problem of outsiders, it is important to recognise the other side of the picture too. While in manufacturing industries, more and more educated labour is being recruited, in employments like mines, plantations, ports and docks, and construction, the workers are generally illiterate. Though
1 Royal Commission on Labour (1929—31), p. 317. 2 Ibid, p. 331.
the fear of standing up to an employer of the type referred to by the Whitley Commission may be less in evidence now, difficulties in the emergence of strong inside leadership still exist. The complicated nature of industry makes the unions require the services of educated or technical personnel, not necessarily connected with the plant, as helpers/well wishers. Industrial negotiations have become more complex on account of the legal frame-work and procedures under which they are to be carried on. Unions must have whole-time officebearers and their own expertise. More affluent unions can afford to pay for them, but others have to depend upon outsiders.
20.44 Our attention has also been drawn to the view that politics and the trade union movement cannot work in mutually exclusive compartments. Political action for bettering its own position cannot be denied to labour, just as labour support is necessary for any political party. Further, in a democracy, no public organisation can be isolated from extraneous influences and certainly not an organisation which deals with a large body of workers. It cannot be said that even a total ban on outsiders will necessarily insulate a union from political influences. The employee office bearers cannot be prevented from being interested in and connected with political parties, or from seeking the assistance of one political group or the other when such assistance is needed. Numerous instances of this type have been cited to us during the course of evidence.
20.45 Trade union legislation in our country deals with outsiders in a somewhat different manner than in many other countries. Legislation in many countries contains no provisions concerning grounds for disqualification from holding office in a trade union or employers' organisation. The I.L.O. Convention (No. 87) concerning Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise provides that workers' and employers' organisations shall have the right to draw up their constitutions and rules and to elect their representatives in full freedom and enjoins public authorities to refrain from any interference which would restrict this right or impede the lawful exercise thereof. Member countries would, however, remain free to provide in their legislation for such formalities as appear appropriate to ensure the normal functioning of trade unions/industrial organisations.
20.46 Consistent with this Convention, the laws in several countries provide for disqualification of persons to hold union office on grounds of (a) nationality, (b) political opinions, and (c) occupation, apart from conviction on offences involving moral turpitude. The criteria adopted in determining disqualification seem to depend on the circumstances obtaining in each country, the composition of the labour force, the structure of the unions, the historical carry-over, the constitution of the country and so on. In the U.K., office-bearers of a union or of the British Trade Unions Congress may be ex-workers, but according to the legal position obtaining in our country, they will be considered outsiders. Trade union leadership in most advanced countries is drawn from within the ranks of the working class. A union office-bearer or leader who has not been a worker but has political affiliations is a peculiar feature of countries like ours where the trade union movement had to be in the forefront of a political struggle. This feature has now survived its historical necessity.
20.47 Our broad assessment is that while it is true that on some major issues outsiders have influenced union decisions, and not all such cases have necessarily led to industrial disharmony, the total effect of outsiders has not been such as should bar them altogether from trade union counsels. There have been cases where ordinary members also have struck militant postures of the type attributed to outsiders, and in such cases, the latter operated as a sobering influence on the former. On the other hand, arguments about illiteracy of workers and victimisation of leadership usually urged in favour of continuing outsiders sound weak in the current context, and even more so, in the context of the future.
20.48 The remedies suggested for minimising outside influence range from an outright ban on all non-employees to leaving the outsider alone and concentrating on steps that would strengthen inside leadership. Advocates of the latter view seek support from the Whitley Com-mission's observations: "Those whose wages and leisure are barely adequate for sustained work in a factory are not likely to find energy or leisure for activity outside it."1 The position now is not so desperate and is likely to improve with every advance in the economy. Workers now enjoy a better living standard and more leisure than when the Whitley Commission reported. Most of the State Governments seem to favour a programme of active measures to promote the growth of internal leadership. This alone, according to them, will ultimately be
1 Royal Commission on Labour, p. 321.
an effective step to minimise outside influence. One suggestion is that as a first step the law should be amended to provide that either the President or the General Secretary of a union should be from among the ranks of workers. While the employers' organisations have emphasised the undesirable effects of outside leadership, particularly the politically-oriented leadership in trade unions, workers' organisations have generally laid stress on the useful role played by outsiders in the past and on the factors that would justify their continued association with unions for some time to come. The importance of steps like workers' education and trade union training, to encourage and build up workers to accept the responsibility of leadership has, however, been emphasised by all. Some unions have suggested that office bearers of unions should be barred from holding simultaneous office in a political party; others go strictly by the letter of the ILO Convention referred to above and want the freedom of association to be undiluted.
20.49 Our Industrial Relations Study Groups have emphasised the need for building up internal leadership. To hasten this process, one of them has favoured a reduction in the legal limit of the number of outside office-bearers to a third of the total. Another feels that a provision should he made to restrict individuals from becoming office-bearers of more than a certain number of registered unions.1 Our Committee on Workers' Education has emphasised the important role that workers' education could play in helping the process of training workers as union leaders. This emphasis has found support in other evidence before us.
20.50 We are not in favour of a legal ban on non-employees holding positions in the executive of the unions, as it will be too drastic a step. In any case, it may run counter to Article 19 of the Constitution. Whom workers should choose to elect as their leaders is a matter best left to workers themselves. Any endeavour to dictate to unions the choice of their office-bearers or leaders would be as much of an imposition from outside as the leadership of outsiders that is proposed to be eliminated by this measure. The right course would be to take steps to promote internal leadership and give workers a more responsible role to play and keep them outside the pale of victimisation. Without creating conditions for the building up of internal leadership, a complete banning of outsiders would only make unions weaker. A reduction in the number of outsiders in the union executive or at the officers' level would not by itself eliminate outside or political influence. Even today, outsiders in union executives are estimated to be about 10 per cent, much less than the number legally permitted. Thus, the only fruitful line of approach is to concentrate efforts on those measures which would help build up a strong leadership from within.
20.51 In our view, the issue of outsiders would solve itself as workers become more educated and conscious. Already, the fact that unions in some 'white collar' employments and in newly developing industries which require an adequate complement of educated workers are managed effectively by persons from the rank and file lends support to this view. Industries of the future will be mostly of the type where employment of educated workers will be the rule. Even in mining and plantations, as indeed in agriculture (a sector yet to be organised), the worker is certainly more conscious of his rights than before, though still illiterate. We expect that this trend would gather momentum. With the spread of workers' education and a greater emphasis on training of trade union workers, we hope that internal leadership will develop. Adequate protection against unfair labour practices, an important factor inhibiting the emergence of infernal leadership, will also help. Compulsory recognition of majority unions to represent workers and negotiate on their behalf, recommended elsewhere, will vest union officials with greater responsibilities and will give them the needed confidence to build up competent internal leadership. Added to these, if legal procedures are simplified and industrial relations practices are rationalised, workers will certainly be able to stand on their own. The compulsions of developments taking place in the sphere of industrial relations will by themselves provide a check to outside influence. To hasten the process of building of internal leadership, the permissible limit of outsiders in the executives of the unions should be reduced.
20.52 Our approach to the concept of the term 'outsider' is somewhat different from that of the Trade Unions Act, 1926, which regards all non-employees as outsiders. It was brought to our notice that a number of employees resigned their jobs in order to shoulder the responsibilities of unions as selfless and devoted workers and it would not be appropriate
1 The observations of the Whitley Commission on this point are: "No man can take an effective share in the organisation of half a dozen unions simultaneously. In existing conditions, the fostering of one good union is a hard task and more than enough for a man who can generally devote only a part of the day to such work", (p. 329)
to call them as outsiders to the movement. They have very much identified themselves with unions and contributed to their growth and stability. The cases of some of the dismissed or discharged employees who were punished apparently for misconduct, but in tact for their union activities, fall in a similar category. It is only fair that persons who atone time or the other were employed in the industry and had resigned or had their services terminated, should not be treated as outsiders.
20.53 We are of the view that outsiders in trade unions should be made redundant by forces from within rather than by a legal ban. Simultaneously, legal provision to protect internal leadership should be strengthened. Along with this, measures will have to be taken on several fronts to strengthen forces for building up internal leadership. For this we recommend the following steps:
(a) intensification of workers' education;
(b) penalties for victimisation and similar unfair labour practices;
(c) intensification of efforts by trade union organisers to train workers in union organisation; and
(d) limiting the proportion of outsiders in the union executives as follows:
Where the membership of a union is:
(i) below 1,000 the number of outsiders should not be more than ... 10%.
(ii) between 1000—10,000 ... 20%. (iii) above 10,000 ... 30%.
(iv) the permissible limit for industry-wise unions should be ... 30%.
(e) treating all ex-employees as insiders;
(f) establishing a convention that no union office-bearer will concurrently hold office in a political party.
20.54 We have referred to the splits in the trade union movement having their origin in the twenties when a section of the AITUC leadership broke away and formed a separate organisation. After Independence, union rivalries based on political considerations have become sharper. The splitting up of unions and formation of new unions having sympathies with political parties have permeated unions
operating at different levels. In many important industrial units, unions, whether affiliated to central organisations or not, operate independently, each claiming to speak on behalf of all workers. The evidence indicates that attempts are made by each to undermine the influence of the others; questioning the bona fides of rival leaders is not unknown. In this situation, one could visualise some employers taking advantage of the rivalries and playing one union against the other. Basically, inter-union conflict feeds itself on differences in the concept of what one group or the other considers to be the workers' interest as also about the means to be adopted for advancing them. The spirit of service which motivates the entry of a person into public life, with or without political affiliation, brings a trade union worker into contact with the rank and file. Differences in the concept of service introduce rivalries as in every other field.
20.55 Attempts to bring about trade union unity have failed to bear fruit. Statutory restrictions on the formation of unions have neither been considered desirable nor necessary, though every group has been aware of the salutary effect that such restrictions will have on industrial relations. Since legislation permits formation of several unions covering the same group of workers, a voluntary basis was sought to regulate inter-union relations. An inter-union Code of Conduct was evolved in 1958 at a meeting of the representatives of the four central organisations of workers, presided over by the then Minister for Labour and Employment, Government of India. The Code of Conduct recognises the existence of multiple unions, but seeks to regulate their relations on the basis of mutual understanding. It recognises the right of every employee to join a union of his choice; forbids coercion, violence, intimidation and personal vilification in inter-union dealings; emphasises the need to follow democratic principles in the functioning of trade unions. The Code also expects that no organisation will make excessive or extravagant demands in an attempt to outbid its rival. In effect, what the code sought to do was nothing more than what the British TUC did in 1939 or the two important trade unions/federations in the U.S.A. did prior to their coming together in 1956. While the basic tenets on which the code was built up were un-ex-ceptionable, what was found to be its weakness was the absence of a joint machinery to be evolved by the organisations themselves. Governmental machinery which was set up for this purpose proved ineffective. It was looked upon with suspicion by three organisations which
were a party to the code, because of the apprehension they had about the possibility of the machinery being used in favour of the fourth. The working of the Code was reviewed on a number of occasions and renewed assurances were sought from top leadership in the central organisations of workers that they would abide by its provisions. These only served to highlight the fact that the signatories to the Code themselves had no faith in its effectiveness; that the causes of inter-union rivalries were more deep-rooted and could not be removed by a Code which had only moral sanctions. Political rivalries in unions are not unknown in other countries. Apart from internal arrangements evolved within the federation, the growth of collective bargaining which connotes a formal arrangement for union recognition seems to have minimised inter-union conflicts.
20.56 Added to inter-union rivalry, instances of intra-union rivalry have also been increasing in frequency in recent years. While healthy rivalry and opposition is necessary for the strength of any democratic institution, it can have pernicious effects when motivated by personal considerations. The Standing Labour Committee in February 1966 recommended that where more than one set of persons claimed to be the office-bearers of the same union, provision should be made in the Trade Unions Act, 1926 for an election, confined to the members of the union concerned, to be conducted under the aegis of the Labour Court after allowing the Central Organisation concerned an opportunity to sort out the difference within its own affiliate.1
20.57 The economic and social aims of the central organisations are not very different. All the central organisations want operation within a democratic frame-work, the establishment of a socialist society, placing of industry under public control, improvement in the conditions of work and life of workers, the securing of a fair deal for the working class, and so on. There is, however, a difference in the means to be adopted for the achievement of these ends; and the means are no less important. This again has its basis, to some extent, in the ideologies of the different political parties with which these organisations have links. The AITUC, believing as it does in class struggle, has always been very critical of the industrial relations policy of the Government. It demands that workers' right to strike must be guaranteed and unhampered. The HMS, the HMP and the UTUC also hold that a conflict of interest is inevitable in employer-employee relationship and that the workers' right to strike is inalienable. They prefer collective bargaining to adjudication for settlement of disputes. The line taken by the BMS is not much different. The INTUC, on the other hand, emphasises that "the means to be adopted for the furtherance of the objects shall be peaceful and consistent with truth". It does not believe in the inevitability of class struggle. It seeks to establish just industrial relations and secure redress of grievances without stoppage of work by means of negotiation and conciliation, and failing these, by arbitration or adjudication; but reserves the right to resort to other methods where arbitration/adjudication is not available. While, therefore, in one major instrument to be adopted for settlement of disputes, there seems to be no disagreement, the timing of direct action and the circumstances under which it should be resorted to differ. We do not, however, minimise the significance of this disagreement. Indeed it weighs on us much more than the identity of aims.
20.58 Our approach is to deal with this issue, as with the overall issue of strengthening unions, from within rather than from without, and through the evolutionary rather than the regulatory process, to unite the working class into a single organisation committed exclusively to the trade union movement. This process however needs to be strengthened and its pace hastened by an active policy. Our approach, therefore, should not be misconstrued to imply a negative or passive policy. We recommend action along the following lines: (a) elimination of party politics and outsiders through building up of internal leadership, (b) promotion of collective bargaining through recognition of sole bargaining agents, (c) improving the system of union recognition, (d) encouraging union security, and (e) empowering Labour Courts to settle intra-union disputes if they are not settled within the organisation, The Labour Courts should, step in at the request of either group or on a motion by the appropriate government, in cases where the central organisation is unable to resolve the dispute. We have already discussed (a). The chapter on Industrial Relations will cover (b), (c) and (e). We will now analyse issues connected with (d).
Closed Shop/Union Shop
20.59 Although union security provisions, such as closed shop and union shop, have presently not gained currency in India, as unions grow strong and collective bargaining and
1 See Para 20 .84.
union recognition become accepted practices there will he demands for the grant of such facilities. A consideration of the issue thus seems to be called for.
20.60 Union security provisions involve .agreement with the employer or at least his acquiescence not to employ a non-member. Its two main variants are: (i) pre-entry or 'closed shop' by which the employer will recruit only trade union members; this gives the union control over the supply of labour; and (ii) post-entry or 'union shop' by which new entrants to employment, if they. are not union members, must join the union within a specified period.
20.61 Where there is already a strong and stable union, arrangements for closed-shop/ union shop add to its strength, and in other cases, they support and hasten the process of stabilisation of a union. A corollary to the above argument is the common obligation principle. The arguments normally advanced in its support ale: (a) since in an establishment all workers enjoy the benefits secured by a representative union, no employee should be entitled to share the gains unless he contributes towards the activities and expenses of the union which secures these gains; (b) it becomes easier for a representative union, with which the collective agreement is signed to implement its part of the obligations, if the workers are subject to union discipline; (c) it exercises a check on eventualities like non members not honouring the commitments made by a representative union; and (d) it gives financial support and also enhances the prestige of a representative union. The dosed shop/union shop provision will offer advantages to the individual worker also; it will eliminate interference by the employers in the union activities; it will make the member's employment more secure and create conditions for internal leadership to carry on union activities freely. The employer also benefits by such arrangements as he is sure that he deals with an organisation which represents all his workers.
20.62 There are equally weighty arguments on the other side as well: (i) The practice infringes upon the right of freedom of association in that it compels an employee to join an association which may not be to his liking. Freedom of association includes freedom to join an organisation as well as Hot to join it. Since in a union-shop or closed-shop contract, a person has no choice but to join a trade union and pay subscription, such arrangements seem to abridge a person's freedom. It may also happen that a union may refuse to accept an individual as its member. The individual is obliged to accept however all the decisions of a union of which he is forced to be a member, and in case of disagreement or non-observance of the decision, he runs the risk of losing his job through expulsion from the union. The union, therefore, loses its voluntary character. Some critics have also argued that if a union's finances are secure, it may not function in a democratic manner.
20.63 There is little experience of 'closed shop/union shop' within the country itself. A committee appointed by the Government of Bihar in 1956 'to examine the question of Introduction of check-off and union shop in selected establishments' recommended conditional introduction of union-shop purely as an experimental measure. In its view, "the right of the citizens to seek and get employment is one of the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution and any interference with that right in the shape of prior membership of a trade union will be an unreasonable limitation on the right to work It was, therefore, strongly opposed to "the system of closed-shop under which membership of a trade union is a condition of employment". The Committee, however, felt that this objection did not apply equally to "union-shop under which a worker is given an opportunity to be a member of the recognised trade union within a certain period after his employment". In its view, only When a majority of the workers within the bargaining unit vote in a secret ballot for a particular union, could the demand for union-shop provision be considered by the management.
20.64 The practice of closed-shop, according to us, is neither practicable nor desirable. Apart from considerations of feasibility, it is against the Fundamental Right of Freedom of Association guaranteed in our Constitution. We can at best think in terms of 'union-shop', though in this system also some compulsion is 'in-built The evidence before us is overwhelmingly against the introduction of either 'closed-shop' or 'union shop'. Admitting that such security measures give organisational and financial Strength and stability to a union, and facilitate collective bargaining, we would like unions to build themselves up and win, through their own strength, the benefits of union security rather than this right be given' to them under statute.
20.65 Our recommendation on recognition of a representative union, union finances, rights of the recognised union vis-a-vis, minority unions, changes in the present system of settlement of industrial disputes, joint consultation
at plant level, etc., will have a far-reaching impact on the unions' organisational and bargaining capacity as indeed on union security provisions. In our view, it will be better that such security measures are allowed to evolve in the natural process of trade union growth rather than be introduced through compulsion for fostering that growth.
20.66 Another related issue is 'check-off', a practice in which the employer regularly deducts from the employees' pay membership dues and other financial obligations to the union and hands over these deductions to the union. In countries where the system is in vogue, it is usually enforced through a clause in the collective bargaining agreement and is made legally permissible.
20.67 We recognise that sustained and regular membership lends stability and strength to a union; the union's bargaining power improves, and as a consequence, it can attend to its responsibilities. Regular membership connotes payment of union dues. Union members, like anyone else, are prone to forgetful-ness, and at times indifferent, and union dues tall in arrears. Inter-union and intra-union rivalries and the competition to attract membership makes collections sporadic and irregular. Collection of dues is generally done by union leaders or their helpers contacting workers by visiting their residences or at the work places on the pay day with the permission of the employer. The method of collecting dues through appointment of paid persons, or a person on commission basis, is not common in India nor is check-off.
20.68 Instances where recognised unions demanded the extension of the check-off facility have been few. The Bihar Committee, referred to earlier, recommended the introduction of the check-off, as an experimental measure and subject to certain conditions, viz., (i) the initiative for check-off must be taken by the union itself; (ii) check-off should be permitted only if the worker signs an authorisation slip and hands it over directly to the Head of the Department in which he works; (iii) once the authorisation slip has been handed over, it should be valid for the calendar year or the financial year (whatever is the period of union membership); (iv) the deduction should stop if the authorisation is revoked by the worker; and (v) the unions which seek to enjoy the benefit of check-off should ensure proper maintenance of accounts and democratic functioning.
20.69 Those who favour check-off see several advantages in it: the arrangement eliminates the necessity to approach individual members each month and ensures regular payment of membership dues. The chances of members falling in arrears are minimised. It leaves union executives free to concentrate on other important work of the union which today gets neglected for lack of time. Check-off eliminates to a great extent the possibility of dual membership. Employers will benefit by this arrangement as it eliminates on-the-job interruptions caused by collection of dues, albeit by a recognised union. On the other hand, those who do not favour check-off feel that collection of dues is an important way of keeping in close and live touch with members and maintaining the organisers' active interest in union affairs. But the more basic objection raised by unions is that it discloses information to the employers about the state of union organisation, membership and names of members. In a situation where the employer is not well disposed towards a union, there might be a latent fear of victimisation among some workers. We do not attach importance to this apprehension particularly in the context of the future.
20.70 The evidence indicates general support to the idea that it 'check-off' is to be introduced, the facility should be restricted to the recognised unions only. There is something to be said in favour of this point. However, in view of the present attitude of the parties, particularly the unions, it does not seem necessary to give this facility through statutory means. An enabling legal provision should be adequate. The right to demand check-off facilities should vest with the unions, and if such a demand is made by a recognised union, it should be made incumbent on the management to accept it.
20.71 An individual employee from whose pay his membership subscription is deducted must be a party to such a deduction. A system of 'authorisation slips' from individual employees will meet such a requirement. At the same time, to avoid any unnecessary increase in the workload of management or upset in the financial stability of unions by too frequent revocations, it should be provided that the members' authorisation will be valid for at least one year.
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