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Govt. drops plan to bar outsiders from unions

The Union government has dropped a proposal to allow only employees working in factories becoming office-bearers of trade unions in those units.

The government had proposed the move in the Code on Industrial Relations Bill, 2015, in an attempt to keeping a check on “politicisation of trade unions”. However, the central trade unions viewed this as an attack on the trade union movement and said the government should not interfere in composition of unions.

“The provisions on restricting outsiders from becoming office-bearers in trade unions have been dropped following widespread consultations and studies on best international practices. All the countries that we studied have allowed outsiders to become part of the trade union leadership,” said a senior labour and employment ministry official on the conditions of anonymity.

The labour ministry observed that the proposed provisions were against International Labour Organisation conventions. The ILO Convention 87 on freedom of association states that workers have the right to elect their representatives “in full freedom”.

“Though the convention has not been ratified by India, but we studied other countries such as China and the United States that have not ratified it. In these countries, too, outsiders are allowed to be part of executives of trade unions,” the ministry official said.

According to the proposed Labour Code on Industrial Relations Bill, only people engaged or employed in an industry can become office-bearers of a trade union in the organised sector and two outsiders can be office-bearers of a trade union in the unorganised sector. The Bill has been circulated for inter-ministerial consultations and is expected to be sent to the Cabinet in May, following which it will be introduced in Parliament. The government has also removed a proposed provision disqualifying a person as an office-bearer if he is an office-bearer in 10 other trade unions.

Under the present law, one-third of the office-bearers in a trade union in the organised sector can be outsiders (with a maximum limit of five such persons). In the case of the unorganised sector, half the office-bearers can be outsiders.

“I think it is a step in line with the spirit of ILO Convention 87, which the Indian government is bound to respect even if it has not ratified it yet. Nowadays, factories have a comparatively younger workforce and an experienced leadership is important. Outside workers will also not be subjected to any pressure from the management,” labour law advocate Ramapriya Gopalakrishnan said.

According to XLRI Jamshedpur professor K R Shyam Sundar, who authored the book ‘Contemporary Reforms of Labour Market and Industrial Relations System in India’, Maruti Suzuki’s Manesar plant witnessed violence between workers and the management in July 2012 that claimed the life of one of the carmaker’s senior executives principally because of inexperienced union leaders. “The Maruti Suzuki case has shown that the absence of experienced leadership will play havoc. Inexperienced and immature trade union leadership may lead to violence,” Sundar said. Last year, the Gurgaon district court had sentenced 13 workers, all of whom were a part of the then newly formed Maruti Suzuki Workers Union, to life imprisonment.

The ILO had also felt that it should be up to the trade unions to decide structures and the government should play the role of a facilitator.

“Often workers who are part of a factory are unable to raise their voice when they become part of a trade union belonging to that unit. In such cases, the role of outsiders becomes important,” Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) general secretary Virjesh Upadhyay said.

“Trade unions should be a true reflection of the workers. It is not that you hijack the agenda by bringing people from outside. We are encouraging those who are stakeholders and are involved with the workers to form unions,” the then Labour Secretary Shankar Aggarwal had said in an interview to this publication in June 2015, justifying the proposal which has now been shelved.

This is the second contentious proposal that the Centre has withdrawn from the Bill. The Centre has also sidestepped from its proposal to allow factories with up to 300 workers to retrench workers and shut shop without seeking government permission, up from 100 workers at present. This also led the Centre to remove the proposed provision to hike severance pay three times to 45 days of wage for each year worked from 15 days of wage per year at present.

The Centre has, however, retained its proposal to curb flash strikes as workers in all factories will be required to give employers a strike notice of at least two weeks after the Bill becomes a law. At present, only workers in public utilities are required to do so. Public utilities include banking, cement, coal, cotton textiles, hospitals, among others. Go-slows, gheraos, squatting or demonstrations by employees at employers’ houses during conciliation proceedings will not be allowed.

Source: BS