Trade union is a voluntary organization of workers pertaining to a particular trade, industry or a company and formed to promote and protect their interests and welfare by collective action. They are the most suitable organisations for balancing and improving the relations between the employer and the employees. They are formed not only to cater to the workers’ demand, but also for inculcating in them the sense of discipline and responsibility. They aim to:-
- Secure fair wages for workers and improve their opportunities for promotion and training.
- Safeguard security of tenure and improve their conditions of service.
- Improve working and living conditions of workers.
- Provide them educational, cultural and recreational facilities.
- Facilitate technological advancement by broadening the understanding of the workers.
- Help them in improving levels of production, productivity, discipline and high standard of living.
- Promote individual and collective welfare and thus correlate the workers’ interests with that of their industry.
In India, the first organised trade union was formed in 1918 and since then they have spread in almost all the industrial centres of the country. The legislation regulating these trade unions is the Indian Trade Unions Act, 1926. The Act deals with the registration of trade unions, their rights, their liabilities and responsibilities as well as ensures that their funds are utilised properly. It gives legal and corporate status to the registered trade unions. It also seeks to protect them from civil or criminal prosecution so that they could carry on their legitimate activities for the benefit of the working class. The Act is applicable not only to the union of workers but also to the association of employers. It extends to whole of India. Also, certain Acts, namely, the Societies Registration Act, 1860; the Co-operative Societies Act, 1912; and the Companies Act, 1956 shall not apply to any registered trade union, and that the registration of any such trade union under any such Act shall be void.
The Act is administered by the Ministry of Labour through its Industrial Relations Division. The Division is concerned with improving the institutional framework for dispute settlement and amending labour laws relating to industrial relations. It works in close co-ordination with the Central Industrial Relations Machinery (CIRM) in an effort to ensure that the country gets a stable, dignified and efficient workforce, free from exploitation and capable of generating higher levels of output. The CIRM, which is an attached office of the Ministry of Labour, is also known as the Chief Labour Commissioner (Central) [CLC(C)] Organisation. The CIRM is headed by the Chief Labour Commissioner (Central). It has been entrusted with the task of maintaining industrial relations, enforcement of labour laws and verification of trade union membership in central sphere. It ensures harmonious industrial relations through:-
- Monitoring of industrial relations in Central Sphere;
- Intervention, mediation and conciliation in industrial disputes in order to bring about settlement of disputes;
- Intervention in situations of threatened strikes and lockouts with a view to avert the strikes and lockouts;
- Implementation of settlements and awards.
According to the Trade Unions Act,1926, ‘trade union’ means “any combination, whether temporary or permanent, formed primarily for the purpose of regulating the relations between workmen and employers or between workmen and workmen or between employers and employers, or for imposing restrictive conditions on the conduct of any trade or business, and includes any federation of two or more trade unions”. The basic provisions of the Act are:-
- The Act provides for the registration of the trade unions with the ‘Registrars of Trade Unions’ set up in different States, like the Office of Registrar (Trade Union) set up by the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi. For registration of a trade union, seven or more members of the union can submit their application in the prescribed form to the Registrar of trade unions. The application shall be accompanied by a copy of the ‘rules of the trade union’ and a statement giving the following particulars:- (i) Names, occupations and addresses of the members making the application; (ii)The name of the trade union and the address of its head office; (iii) The titles, names, ages, addresses and occupations of the office bearers of the trade union as per the format given in the Trade Unions Act 1926. The Registrar, on being satisfied that the Union has complied with all the requirements of this Act, shall register the trade union. Thereafter, it shall issue a certificate of registration in the prescribed form as a conclusive evidence of registration of that trade Union.
- The registered trade unions (workers & employers) are required to submit annual statutory returns to the Registrar regarding their membership, general funds, sources of income and items of expenditure and details of their assets and liabilities, which in turn submits a consolidated return of their state in the prescribed proformae to Labour Bureau, Ministry of Labour and Employment. The Labour Bureau on receiving the annual returns from different States/Union Territories, consolidates the all India statistics and disseminates them through its publication entitled the ‘Trade Unions in India’ and its other regular publications.
- The general funds of a registered trade union shall not be spent on any other objects than those specified in the Act. Also, a registered trade union may constitute a separate fund, from contributions separately levied for or made to that fund, for the promotion of the civic and political interest of its members. No member shall be compelled to contribute to such fund and a member who does not contribute to the said fund shall not be excluded from any benefits of the trade union, or placed in any respect either directly or indirectly under any disability or at any disadvantage as compared with other members of the union by reason of his contribution to the said fund.
- No office-bearer or member of a registered trade union shall be liable to punishment under the Indian Penal Code in respect of any agreement made between the members for the purpose of furthering any such object of the trade union as specified in the Act, unless the agreement is an agreement to commit an offence.
- No suit or other legal proceeding shall be maintainable in any civil court against any registered trade union or any office-bearer or member thereof in respect of any act done in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute to which a member of the trade union is a party on the ground only that such an act induces some other person to break a contract of employment, or that it is in interference with the trade, business or employment of some other person or with the right of some other person to dispose of his capital of his labour as he wills.
- The account books of a registered trade union and the list of members thereof shall be open to inspection by an office-bearer or member of the trade union at such times as may be provided for in the rules of trade union.
- A person shall be disqualified for being chosen as, and for being a member of, the executive or any other office-bearer or registered trade union if- (i) he has not attained the age of eighteen years; (ii) he has been convicted by a court in India of any offence involving moral turpitude and sentenced to imprisonment, unless a period of five years has elapsed since his release.
- Every office-bearer or other person bound by the rules of the trade union shall be punishable with the payment of fine, if:-
- Default is made on the part of any registered trade union in giving any notice or sending any statement or other document as required by or under any provision of this Act; or
- Any person willfully makes, or causes to be made, any false entry in, or any omission from, the general statement or in or from any copy of rules or of alterations of rules sent to the Registrar; or
- Any person who, with intent to deceive, gives to any member of a registered trade union or to any person intending or applying to become a member of such trade union any document purporting to be a copy of the rules of the trade union or of any alterations to the same which he/ she knows, or has reason to believe, is not a correct copy of such rules or alterations as are for the time being in force, or any person who, with the like intent, gives a copy of any rules of an unregistered trade union to any person on the pretence that such rules are the rules of a registered trade union.
- Any registered trade union may, with the consent of not less than two-thirds of the total number of its members and subject to the provisions of of the Act, change its name. The change in the name of a registered trade union shall not effect any of its rights or obligation or render defective any legal proceeding by or against the union, and any legal proceeding which might have been continued or commenced by or against it by its former name may be continued by its new name.
- Any two or more registered trade unions may become amalgamated together as one trade union with or without the dissolution or division of the funds of such trade unions or any of them, provided that the votes of at least one-half of the members of each or every such trade union entitled to vote are recorded, and that at least sixty percent of the votes recorded are in favour of the proposal. Such an amalgamation shall not prejudice any right of any such unions or any right of a creditor or any of them.
- When a registered trade union is dissolved, notice for the dissolution signed by seven members and by the Secretary of the trade union shall, within fourteen days of the dissolution, be sent to the Registrar and shall be registered by him if he is satisfied that the dissolution has been effected in accordance with the rules of the trade union, and the dissolution shall have effect from the date of such registration.
However, the Trade Unions Act 1926 has been amended from time to time and the most important being the Trade Unions (Amendment) Act, 2001. This Act has been enacted in order to bring more transparency and to provide greater support to trade unionism in India. Some of the salient features of the Trade Unions (Amendment) Act, 2001 are:-
- No trade union of workmen shall be registered unless at least 10% or 100, whichever is less, subject to a minimum of 7 workmen engaged or employed in the establishment or industry with which it is connected are the members of such trade union on the date of making of application for registration.
- A registered trade union of workmen shall at all times continue to have not less than 10% or 100 of the workmen, whichever is less, subject to a minimum of 7 persons engaged or employed in the establishment or industry with which it is connected, as its members.
- A provision for filing an appeal before the Industrial Tribunal / Labour Court in case of non-registration or for restoration of registration has been provided.
- All office bearers of a registered trade union, except not more than one-third of the total number of office bearers or five, whichever is less, shall be persons actually engaged or employed in the establishment or industry with which the trade union is connected.
- Minimum rate of subscription by members of the trade union is fixed at one rupee per annum for rural workers, three rupees per annum for workers in other unorganised sectors and 12 rupees per annum in all other cases.
- The employees who have been retired or have been retrenched shall not be construed as outsiders for the purpose of holding an office in the trade union concerned.
- For the promotion of civic and political interest of its members, unions are authorized to set up separate political funds.
Hence, trade union legislation ensures their orderly growth, reduce their multiplicity and promote internal democracy in the industrial organisation and the economy. The trade unions have thus acquired an important place in the economic, political and social set up of the country.