The collective bargaining in India remained limited in its scope and restricted in its coverage by a well defined legal structure. Actually, the labour laws systematically promoted and perpetuated a duality of labour-formal sector workers enjoying better space for collective bargaining and informal ones with no scope for collective bargaining. To understand this, we can discuss in brief about the labour legislations in India and their scope and coverage.
It is interesting to note that the applicability of different sections of labour laws is limited by number of workers engaged in an establishment. The limitations put in applicability of labour laws is haphazard and there is no logic behind it, but in overall terms it systematically denies any protection and any social security to those employed in smaller factories with less than ten workers.
The Factories Act provides for the health, safety, welfare and other aspects of workers while at work in the factories. Under this Act, an establishment with power employing 10 workers and 20 workers in case of no power connection is a factory, but following provisions of the act are not applicable to all factories:
Provision for crèche:
applicable only if 30 or more women are employed;
Provisions of a rest room:
applicable only if there are 150 or more workers;
Provisions of canteen:
applicable only if there are 250 or more workers;
Provisions for ambulance, dispensary, and medical and para-medical staff: applicable only if there are 500 or more workers.
In India, right to protest is a fundamental right under Article 19 of the Constitution of India; but right to strike is not a fundamental right. Right to strike as also the right to lock-out is a legal right governed by Industrial Disputes Act 1947.
Under the law, all strikes needed due notices and in this period if management requests for a conciliation, then strike is not legal until the conciliation continues. Even if conciliation fails, the government may refer the dispute for compulsory arbitration or to a labor court for a final decision, and during this period the strike is considered to be illegal.
The State Governments, may also for securing the public safety or convenience or the maintenance of public order or supplies and services essential to the life of the community or for maintaining employment or maintaining industrial peace, make provisions for prohibiting strikes or lock-outs. Large number of special economic zones (SEZs) and proposed National Manufacturing Investment Zones are already declared public utility services and therefore the legal strike becomes almost impossible in the zones.
Moreover, in recent decades, a number of judgments came from the Supreme Court setting precedents against the right to strike.
The trade union movement in India comprises of over 70,000 registered unions (politically affiliated and independent) and an unaccountable number of non-registered organizations engaged on the issue of promoting and protecting workers’ interests. Trade unions in India largely represent only formal sector workers.
There are now 12 Central Trade Unions in India:
(1) BMS- Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (linked with far right political party BJP)-members: 6 million
(2) INTUC – Indian National Trade Union Congress (linked with centrist Congress Party), members: 3.8 million
(3) AITUC – All India Trade Union Congress (linked with Communist party of India)- members: 3.3 million
(4) HMS – Hind Mazdoor Sabha (independent-socialist) -members: 3.2 million
(5) CITU – Centre of Indian Trade Unions (linked with Communist Party of India (Marxist) –members: 2.6 million
(6) UTUC (LS) – United Trade Union Congress (Lenin Sarani) (linked with the party named Socialist Unity Center of India)
(7) UTUC – United Trade Union Congress (linked with political party-Revolutionary Socialist Party)
(8) TUCC – Trade Unions Co-ordination Centre (linked with political party-All India Forward Bloc)
(9) SEWA-Self-Employed Women’s Association (independent)—recently included in the list
(10) LPF-Labour Progressive Front (linked with political party-Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam)—recently included in the list
(11) ICCTU- All-India Central Council of Trade Unions (linked with Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)-Liberation group)- recently included in the list
(12) INTTUC-Indian National Trinomial Trade Union Congress (linked to the political party-All India Trinomial Congress)- recently included in the list