Labour unrest: Strikes, lockouts down in Modi era

By: |
May 21, 2021 5:15 AM

If more than one trade union of workers registered under the IR Code are functioning in an industrial establishment, and no such trade union has 50% or more workers on the muster roll, a negotiating council will be constituted by the employer.

Before the passage of the Code in Parliament, the government dropped a plan to restrict professional politicians from being office bearers of trade unions.

Sweeping labour reforms unleashed by the Narendra Modi government may be yet to take effect due to dithering by many state governments and the Covid-19 pandemic, but strikes and lockouts have seen a steep decline during his ongoing tenure, leading to increased labour productivity and ease of doing business, official data reveal.

In over six years spanning the Modi 1.0 and 2.0 governments (up to August 2020), person days lost due to labour unrest and industrial lockouts were only 2.89 crore, while the previous UPA-II government saw loss of over 4 crore person days in just three years (2011-2013).

Of course, the Modi 1.0 government assumed office in May 26, 2014; segregated data are not immediately available for the January-May 2014 period, yet it is unmistakable that a declining trend in the number of labour agitations started after Modi took charge. It is especially evident that labour strikes have been prevented from causing industrial lockouts much more successfully by the NDA dispensation (see graphics).

“Man-days lost is a direct measure of the impact of industrial unrest on industrial production. Most of the industrial unrest, as indicated by strikes and lockouts, are primarily caused by issues relating to indiscipline & violence, wages & allowances and personnel matters,” the labour ministry said in the annual report for 2020-21.

Rituparna Chakraborty, co-founder and executive vice-president, Teamlease, attributed the decline in strikes, lockouts and person-days lost over the recent years to greater awareness among workers, improved corporate governance system and better social-dialogue atmosphere.

RSS-affiliated BMS ascribed the trend to “workers’ growing apathy to get trapped into negative trade unionism”. Binay Kumar Sinha, all-India general secretary, BMS, said, “Workers have lost faith in trade unions affiliated to different political parties with vested interests.”

CITU president K Hemalata, however, said the decline in the number of strikes and lockouts reflected the current government’s “constant effort to suppress facts and the voice of the trade unions”.

Under the Industrial Reations Code that was signed into law in September 2020, trade unions have been recognised for the first time at the institutional level, but the code also introduced the concept of ‘negotiating union or a negotiating council’, curbing the proliferation of unions and ensuring their representative character when it comes to taking up workers’ causes. So, in a industrial unit where only one trade union is functional, the unit shall ‘recognise’ that union as the “sole negotiating union of the worker”. If there are more than one trade unions functioning in an industrial establishment, the union having 50% or more workers on the muster roll of the unit concerned will be the sole negotiating union.

If more than one trade union of workers registered under the IR Code are functioning in an industrial establishment, and no such trade union has 50% or more workers on the muster roll, a negotiating council will be constituted by the employer.

Before the passage of the Code in Parliament, the government dropped a plan to restrict professional politicians from being office bearers of trade unions.

Amalgamating 29 central labour laws into four codes, the Centre wanted to bring in a sea change in the way business and industry functions today. While the code on wages was passed in August 2019, Parliament approved three other codes – on industrial relations (IR), social security (SS) and Occupational safety, health and working conditions (OSH) on September 23, 2020.

Labour ministry prepares data on strikes and lockouts based on the information received from the Labour Bureau, its subordinate office. The data on industrial disputes is based on returns received every month from the labour departments of the states and union territories.

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