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Trade Unions in India

India's trade unions have gone a long way since the first organised trade union, the Madras Labour Union, one of the first unions, was created in 1918. There are about 84,642 registered trade unions in India[1], with many unregistered trade unions distributed throughout various industries. India is predicted to have a working population of more than 64 per cent by 2021. Therefore, the potential for development in trade union-represented workers is enormous.[2]

History Of Trade Unions In India

Workers in India founded a few associations at the turn of the century to increase their negotiating power over service conditions and wages. The Printers' Union, founded in Calcutta in 1905, and the Bombay Postal Union, founded in 1907, were first. The Madras Labour Union being the oldest was founded in 1918[3], the All India Trade Union Congress ("AITUC") was founded in 1920, the Bengal Trade Union Federation was founded in 1922, and the All India Railwaymen's Federation was founded in 1922. Shri N.M.

The AITUC's General Secretary, Joshi, urged that the government create legislation for the registration and protection of trade unions in India[4] in a resolution in March 1921. The Labour Unions Act of 1926 ("TU Act") was eventually established to ensure the control and protection of trade unions. The Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh ("BMS"), the Indian National Trade Union Congress ("INTUC"), and the All India Trade Union Congress ("AITUC") are the three major trade unions in India today.

Laws Governing Trade Unions In India

  1. Constitution of India, 1950
    Article 19(1) (c) of the Constitution of India, 1950 guarantees citizens the right "to create associations or unions," including trade unions. It also guarantees citizens the right "to form associations or unions."[5] The Supreme Court ruled that the freedom to join an association or union is included in Article 19(1) (c)[6]. This right consists of the State's ability to set reasonable limits.[7]
  2. Trade Unions Act, 1926
    The Trade Unions Act of 1926 (the TU Act) governs the establishment and registration of trade unions, as well as the law governing registered trade unions. "Any combinations, whether temporary or permanent, formed primarily to regulate the relations between workers and employers, or between employers and employers, or for imposing restrictions on the conduct of any trade, and includes any federation or two or more trade unions," according to the Trade Unions Act.[8]
  3. Industrial Disputes Act, 1947
    The IDA oversees the rights of employers and employees in the investigation and settlement of industrial disputes, which includes trade unions. It allows for collective bargaining through negotiation and mediation, or, if that fails, voluntary arbitration or compulsory adjudication with trade union participation. According to the IDA, a settlement reached through collective bargaining is legally binding.[9] Two types of settlements are:
    • Those concluded via conciliation processes before the authorities - such settlements bind both members and non-members of the signatory union and all current and prospective management workers.
    • Those achieved outside of conciliation proceedings but signed independently by the parties to the settlement; such settlements bind only those members who are signatories or parties to the agreement.

Landmark Cases About Trade Unions In India

  1. All India Bank Employees' Association v. N.I.Tribunal [10]
    The case laid down the rights of members of trade unions that are covered under the fundamental right to freedom of expression and speech under Article 19(1) (c). However, the court ruled that Article 19(1) (c) does not include a right to achieving all the goals for which the trade union was created. The ruling also ruled that adequate industrial legislation can govern or restrict trade union strikes.
  2. Balmer Lawrie Workers' Union, Bombay and Anr. v. Balmer Lawrie & Co. Ltd. and Ors [11]
    The SC's underlying assumption was that a recognised union represents all workers in a particular industrial project or industry. In the MRF United Workers case, this matter was also mentioned.
  3. Kalindi and Others v. Tata Locomotive and Engineering Co. Ltd [12]
    The Supreme Court concluded that there is no right to representation unless it recognises it through its standing orders. In Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd. v. Maharashtra General Kamgar Union & Others[13], the decision was upheld.

Historically, the role of trade unions in India was mostly limited to collective bargaining for economic reasons. On the other hand, trade unions currently play an important role in employee welfare, cultural programmes, banking, and medical facilities, as well as raising awareness through training and education of trade union members.

Despite a few recent events that can mainly be classified as one-off situations, most trade unions have succeeded to create a climate that allows for a constructive conversation between workers and employers about whatever requests they may have. Furthermore, Indian trade unions have ensured that a forum exists to support better industrial relations, industrial growth, and productivity improvement over time.

  1. (Accessed on November 16, 2021)
  2. corporation-india-october-economicsurvey (Accessed on November 16, 2021)
  3. In Sbioa News Bulletin (Accessed on November 16, 2021)
  4. India trade-unions-and-collective-bargaining. (Accessed on November 16, 2021
  5. All India Bank Employees' Association v. N.I.Tribunal, AIR 1962 SC 171
  6. Damyanti v. Union of India (AIR 1971 S.C. 966)
  7. Article 19(4) of the Constitution
  8. Section 2, Trade Union Act, 1926
  9. Section 18 of the IDA
  10. All India Bank Employees' Association v. N.I.Tribunal, AIR 1962 SC 171
  11. AIR1985SC311, [1985(50)FLR186], (1985)ILLJ314SC
  12. AIR1960SC914, 1960(1)FLR23, (1960)IILLJ228SC, [1960]3SCR407
  13. AIR1999SC401, 1999(1)ALLMR(SC)249, 1999(81)FLR358

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