National Commission on Labour (1967)||
24.23 Prompt redressal of individual grievances is essential for sustaining good labour-management relations, and promoting efficiency at the plant level. Absence of machinery for it leads to small grievances developing into collective disputes. The type of grievances we have in mind are those arising out of complaints affecting one or more individual workers in respect of their conditions of work and not disputes over matters of general applicability to all. Till the enactment of the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946, (1) the settlement of day-to-day grievances of workers did not receive much attention in our legislative framework. The Act has, however, limited applicability; it applies only to those establishments employing hundred or more workers and does not provide for bipartite discussion for for prompt redressal of grievances. Welfare officers appointed under the Factories Act, 1948 are generally given the task of dealing with individual complaints of workers. Individual disputes relating to discharge, dismissal and retrenchment can now be taken up for relief under the Industrial Disputes Ad, 1947, alter the amendment to it in 1965.
24.24 But whatever be the legal provision, bipartite arrangements for redressal of grievances do exist over wide areas of organised employment, though in unorganised sectors, lack of procedure and even lack of fairness in dealing with grievances is still the rule. Even in some-cases where the Act is applicable, its implementation is reported to be defective. Instances were brought to our notice where Standing Orders to be adopted in public sector units could not be settled because neither the employer nor the authorities had a dear idea as to who should certify them. Under the Factories Act, 1948, the State Governments have framed rules requiring labour welfare officers to ensure settlement of grievances, but this provision has not been helpful because of the dual role of these officers2.
24.25 The Code of Discipline, among other things, lays down that the management and unions 'will establish, upon a mutually agreed basis, a grievance procedure which will ensure speedy and full investigation leading to settlement'. The guiding principles, which were evolved under the Code for this purpose, and the Model Grievance Procedure for adoption by the parties were settled in a tripartite committee in 1958. The principles and procedure are in conformity with practices followed in established units and cover items required by the law and even more. The proposed machinery has been made simple and expeditions within the constraints which all such procedures are subject to. Officers in the management hierarchy, to be approached by the workers at different steps in the procedure, have been specified. Here also, as in the case of efforts to promote the JMCs, full lattitude is given to the parties to come together and modify the procedure on an agreed basis to suit the requirements of a particular unit.
24.26 The Model Grievance Procedure has successive time-bound steps, each leading to the next in case of lack of satisfaction. Under the procedure, an aggrieved employee would first present his grievance verbally to a designated officer who would give a reply within 48 hours. In case the worker is dissatisfied with the decision or fails to get an answer within the-stipulated time, he would, personally or accompanied by his departmental representative,
1The B. I. D. Act, had, and the B.I.R. Act has, inbuilt provisions for Standing Orders. 2 See para 10.23.
present his grievance to the head of the department. If the departmental head fails to give a decision within three days or if his decision is unsatisfactory, the aggrieved worker can seek relief through the 'Grievance Committee" consisting of nominees of management and workers. This Committee would communicate its recommendations to the manager within seven days of the grievance leaching it. If the recommendation is not made within the stipulated time, reasons therefore would be recorded, and in case unanimous recommendations are not possible, the relevant papers would be placed before the manager for decision. The manager is expected to communicate his decision to the worker within three days. The worker would have a right to appeal to the higher authorities for revision of the manager's decision. All such appeals have to be decided within a week of the worker's petition. The worker, if he so desires, could take a union official with him for discussion with the appellate authority. In case of failure to settle the grievance even at this stage, the union and the management may refer it to voluntary arbitration within a week of receipt of the management's final decision.
24.27 All the steps in the above procedure may not be used if the complaint is against the designated officer at the lowest level or in the case of any grievance arising out of dismissal or discharge of a worker. In the former case, the worker may skip the first step and approach the next authority; in the latter, the appeal may be made to the dismissing authority or any higher authority designated by the management, within a week from the date of dismissal or discharge. Though the grievance machinery could be availed of by an aggrieved worker on receipt of an order causing the grievance, the worker's approach to the machinery ipso facto does not attract a stay in the implementation of the orders of management. In several industrial establishments, arrangements for a formal processing of workers' grievances exist, but they do not quite conform to the model described above. It is also not known to what extent the workers were consulted in framing the existing procedures. In all such cases, one has to see what works in a given establishment: whether the procedure in operation has all the elements of what could be considered the model is another matter.
24.28 In the evidence before us, there is unanimity on the need for a statutory hacking for the formulation of an effective grievance procedure which should be simple, flexible less cumbrous, and more 01 less on the lines of the present Model Grievance Procedure. It should be time-bound and have a limited number of steps, say, approach to the supervisor, then to the departmental head, and thereafter a reference to the 'Grievance Committee' consisting of management and union representatives. It should be made applicable to only those units which employ more than 100 workers. Evidence also suggests that settlement of an individual grievance should be prompt and quick in giving relief to the worker, as it is natural that during the period of suspense before getting the decision, a worker cannot whole-heartedly devote his energies to work.
24.29 A grievance procedure, whether formal or informal, statutory or voluntary, has to ensure that it gives a sense of (i) satisfaction to the individual worker, (ii) reasonable exercise of authority to the manager and (iii) participation to unions. The introduction of unions in the procedure is necessary, because ultimately the union will be answerable to members. It is also important that any procedure, to be effective, should be simple and have a provision for at least one appeal.
24.30 In view of the varying size and nature of units, it may not be desirable to be too rigid about a standardised procedure. Some informality in the approach may be required in case of small units, say units employing less than 100 workers, because in them it is easier both for the management and workers to have close contacts and personal approach. It would, therefore, be more appropriate to confine introduction of a formal procedure to units employing 100 or more workers. The Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946 should have provisions defining a grievance and laying down a procedure for effecting its settlement.
24.31 A basic ingredient of the procedure should be that the total number of steps involved should be limited; not more than four are generally envisaged even in the largest units. A grievance procedure should normally provide for three steps:
(a) approach to the immediate superior;
(b) appeal to the departmental head/manager; and
(c) appeal to the bipartite grievance committee representing management and the recognised union.
The constitution of the Committee should have a provision that in case a unanimous decision is not possible, the unsettled grievance may be referred to an arbitrator At the earlier stages,
a worker should be free to be presented by a co-worker and later by an officer of the union if one exists.