A trade union is a formal association of workers that promotes and protects the interests of its members through collective action. Under the Trade Union Act of 1926, the term is defined as any combination, whether temporary or permanent, formed primarily for the purpose of regulating the relations between workers and employers, or for imposing restrictive conditions on the conduct of any trade or business and includes any federation of two or more unions. Let us examine the definition in parts:
- Trade union is an association either of employees or employers or of independent workers.
- It is a relatively permanent formation of workers. It is not a temporary or casual combination of workers. It is formed on a continuous basis.
- It is formed for securing certain economic (like better wages, better working and living conditions) and social (such as educational, recreational, medical, respect for individual) benefits to members. Collective strength offers a sort of insurance cover to members to fight against irrational, arbitrary and illegal actions of employers. Members can share their feelings, exchange notes and fight the employer quite effectively whenever he goes off the track.
- It includes a federation of trade unions also.
- It emphasises joint, coordinated action and collective bargaining.
Objectives of Trade Unions
The failure of an individual worker to seek solutions to problems, while discharging his duties, personal as well as organisational, led workers to form a formal group which is identified at present as trade union. Thus, the main objective of any trade union is to protect the interest of workers/employees in the organisation. However, the workersÊ interest/welfare is a broad term in which various subjects – wages and salaries, working conditions, working hours, transfers, promotions, recruitment and classification, training, discipline, leave and holidays, dearness allowance, bonus, incentives, quarters, sanitation, employee relations, mechanisation, facilities to unions, welfare, employee relations and the like are included. Thus, a trade union is meant to conduct negotiations on behalf of the individual workers in respect of several items. However, trade unions specifically concentrate their attention to achieve the following objectives:
- Wages and salaries:
The subject which drew the major attention of the trade unions is wages and salaries. Of course, this item may be related to policy matters. However, differences may arise in the process of their implementation. In the case of unorganised sector the trade union plays a crucial role in bargaining the pay scales.
- Working conditions:
Trade unions with a view to safeguard the health of workers demands the management to provide all the basic facilities such as, lighting and ventilation, sanitation, rest rooms, safety equipment while discharging hazardous duties, drinking water, refreshment, minimum working hours, leave and rest, holidays with pay, job satisfaction, social security benefits and other welfare measures.
Trade unions not only conduct negotiations in respect of the items with which their working conditions may be improved but also protect the workers from the clutches of management whenever workers become the victims of managementÊs unilateral acts and disciplinary policies. This victimisation may take the form of penal transfers, suspensions, dismissals, etc. In such a situation the separated worker who is left in a helpless condition may approach the trade union. Ultimately the problem may be brought to the notice of management by the trade union and it explains about the injustice meted out to an individual worker and fights the management for justice. Thus, the victimised worker may be protected by the trade union.
- Personnel policies:
Trade unions may fight against improper implementation of personnel policies in respect of recruitment, selection, promotions, transfers, training, etc.
As stated earlier, trade unions are meant for the welfare of workers. Trade union works as a guide, consulting authority and cooperates in overcoming the personnel problems of workers. It may bring to the notice of management, through collective bargaining meetings, the difficulties of workers in respect of sanitation, hospitals, quarters, schools and colleges for their childrenÊs cultural and social problems.
- Employee-employer relations:
Harmonious relations between the employee and employer is a sine qua non for industrial peace. A trade union always strives for achieving this objective. However, the bureaucratic attitude and unilateral thinking of management may lead to conflicts in the organisation which ultimately disrupt the relations between the workers and management. Trade union, being the representative of all the workers, may carry out continuous negotiations with the management with a view to promoting industrial peace.
- Negotiating machinery:
Negotiations include the proposals made by one party and the counter proposals of the other party. This process continues until the parties reach an agreement. Thus, negotiations are based on give and take principle. Trade union being a party for negotiations protects the interests of workers through collective bargaining. Thus, the trade union works as the negotiating machinery.
- Safeguarding organisational health and the interest of the industry:
Organisational health can be diagnosed by methods evolved for grievance redressal and techniques adopted to reduce the rate of absenteeism and labour turnover and to improve the employee relations. Trade unions by their effective working may achieve employee satisfaction. Thus, trade unions help in reducing the rate of absenteeism, labour turnover and developing systematic grievance settlement procedures leading to harmonious industrial relations. Trade unions can thus contribute to the improvements in level of production and productivity, discipline and improve quality of work life.
Functions of Trade Unions
The functions of trade unions can be divided into the following categories, viz:
- Militant or protective or intra-mutual functions: These functions include protecting the workersÊ interests, i.e., hike in wages, providing more benefits, job security, etc., through collective bargaining and direct action such as strikes, gheraos, etc.
- Fraternal or extra-mural functions: These functions include providing financial and non-financial assistance to workers during the periods of strikes and lock outs, extension of medical facilities during slackness and causalities, provision of education, recreation, recreational and housing facilities, provision of social and religious benefits, etc.
- Political functions: These functions include affiliating the union to a political party, helping the political party in enrolling members, collecting donations, seeking the help of political parties during the periods of strikes and lockouts.
- Social functions: These functions include carrying out social service activities, discharging social responsibilities through various sections of the society, like educating the customers.
Classification and structure of Trade Unions
Indian labour is represented by many different kinds of unions:
Craft unions: A craft union is one whose members do one type of work, often using specialised skills and training. It is horizontal in character as its members belong to a single process or group of processes. A craft union enjoys strong bargaining power as its members possess specialised skills that cannot be easily replaced in case of a strike.
Industrial union: An industrial union is one that includes many persons working in the same industry or company, regardless of jobs held. It is vertical in nature as it consists of all types of workers in an industry. An industrial union also enjoys strong bargaining strength as it consists of both skilled and unskilled workers. The employer may find it easy to negotiate with one union covering all workers rather than deal with a number of craft unions in case of a dispute.
General union: This type of union consists of workers employed in different industries and crafts within a particular city or region. In this case, all workers are equal and there is no distinction between skilled and unskilled workers.
There is convenience in negotiations as the employer need not bargain with so many splintered groups. Workers, of course, become part of a huge crowd and the interests of an important group many not be represented properly.
There could be plant level unions, in addition to the above, where all workers in a factory or establishment join hands to protect their interests.
Federations: These are national level entitles to which plant level unions, craft unions, industrial unions and general unions are affiliated. These are apex bodies, coordinating the affairs of various unions in their fold.
The first central federation of trade unions, namely the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), was formed in 1920 on the initiative of eminent Congress leaders active in the nationalist movement.
There are a few central federations of trade unions came to be set up at intervals. These included Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS, 1948), United Trades Union Congress (UTUC, 1948), Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS, 1955), Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU, 1970), National Labour Organisation (NLO, 1972), followed by UTUC-LS, NFITUC, TUCC, AICCTU and AIUTUC during years to follow. Most of these central federations are affiliated to a national-level political party of their preference.
The central federations do not ordinarily directly intervene in industrial relations matters concerning their affiliates. They are concerned primarily with the broad national and important issues affecting the interests of labour.
Problems of trade unionism in india
Over the years, trade unions in India have been taken for a ride by outside, politicalleaders. In the process, the interests of workers and their aspirations have been totally neglected. The Trade Unions Act, 1926, did not clearly specify the procedure for recognising a representative union. As a result multiple unions have cropped up, often with blessings from management. The union finances have not been very sound from the beginning. The average membership figures for each union remain poor and have not improved.
Problems of trade unionism can be understood by following points
- Trade union leadership: emergence of outside leadership
- union rivalry:
- Multiple unions:
- Uneven growth:
- Low membership:
- Heterogeneous nature of labour:
- Lack of Interest in trade union activities:
- Absence of paid office bearers:
White collar unionism
White-collar workers refer to employees who do skilled and highly skilled jobs. They are part of the office administration and management. They do not perform manual labour and soil their hands
A trade union which largely or exclusively represents clerical, administrative and technical employees. In the past, such unions have generally been concerned to maintain for their members conditions of employment, rates of pay, and status superior to those of manual workers.
Factors responsible for the growth of white collar unionism are discussed below.
- Denial of both Job Security and Social Security to them by their exclusion from the purview of labour laws like; Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, and Laws relating to wages, bonus and social security against such social risks as sickness, maternity, premature death, and permanent or temporary disabilities caused by accidents, old age and retirement.
- Anomalies in pay caused by implementation of the recommendations of Wage Boards and Pay Commissions.
- Nationalisation and consequent rationalisation of pay and perquisites.
- White and Blue collar workers unions are mostly registered under the Trade Unions Act, 1926 and are generally known as workers and employees Unions, white-collar workers unions are registered either under the Trade Unions Act, 1926, or under the Societies Registration Act, 1860, and are known as employees unions, or employees or staff associations.