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A bleak Labour Day for unions as govt makes it harder to form one

According to a proposal by the Union labour ministry, 10 per cent of the employees or 100 workers will be needed at least to form a trade union

Somesh Jha  |  New Delhi 

Barely a week after trade unions across the country celebrate the Labour Day, the National Democratic Alliance government will meet workers' and industry representatives on May 6 to discuss proposals to make forming unions tougher and union activities more rule-bound.

The proposals to be discussed also include a change in Labour law provisions to disallow protests in office premises or at houses of managers under certain circumstances including when conciliation process is under way. Labour Day is celebrated today in different parts of the country to commemorate the enforcement if defined working hours per day and other rights of workers. West Bengal, with a long tradition of trade union movement, celebrates it with a holiday declared by the state government.

According to a proposal by the Union labour ministry, 10 per cent of the employees or 100 workers will be needed at least to form a trade union. Now it takes seven members to form a union irrespective of the size of the establishment. Only employees will be allowed to form unions and in the unorganised sector two outside officials can become members of a union. The Union labour ministry has proposed to integrate three laws, the Trade Unions Act, the Industrial Disputes Act and the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, into a single code for industrial relations. Trade unions have opposed this move as against workers' interests. "Many state governments have made such proposals and this is happening at the Centre now.

If the proposal is accepted, there will be no scope for forming a union. It will not be easy to go to the labour department with 100 workers to do that," said M Jagadeeswara Rao, vice-president of the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS). Industry, however, lauded the move saying India lacked protection for workers despite a large number of representatives. "We need responsible workers' unions. We need laws with easy supervision and the focus should shift to quality rather than quantity," said Rituparna Chakraborty, co-founder and senior vice-president of staffing firm TeamLease.

The number of registered trade unions in India has grown from 221,871 in 1991-93 to 347,330 in 2005-08, according to the Institute of Human Development. The government will meet union and industry representatives on May 6 to discuss these proposals. Rao said unions would jointly oppose the move. In another proposal, a union will be deemed registered if no action is taken within two months of applying to the government. A worker associated with 10 unions will not be able to form another one. During conciliation proceedings, workers will not be allowed to go slow, gherao, squat on premises or stage demonstrations at managers’ houses. Instigating “such forms of coercive action” will not be considered legal, according to the proposals. “This idea behind forming various codes for labour laws is to dilute the provisions for workers,” said AK Padmanabhan, president of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (Citu). Work days lost in strikes climbed to 13,151 in 2010 from 4,247 in 2009, according to the Labour Bureau.

First Published: Fri, May 01 2015. 00:58 IST