Read this article to learn about the methods of settling disputes in Trade Unions in India!
In most countries, especially the developed ones, industrial conflicts are resolved through interaction of labour and management.
Labour is represented by trade unions. This is known as the bi-partite settlement of disputes.
When a worker is punished for some fault which they may or may not be found guilty of, the union and the management try to resolve the problem through interaction of both parties. At other times, the demands of the workers are taken up collectively by the unions as they represent the workers. This is called collective bargaining.
In India, there is collective bargaining for resolving disputes but there is also a third party, the government, that calls for a tripartite settlement. The office of the labour commissioner plays an important role in resolving disputes. Dispute settlement methods are based on the provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act of 1947.
There are various stages for settlement of disputes. When the management finds fault with a worker or group of workers, it initially warns them to change their ways.
If this does not draw any response, the management may draft a charge sheet asking the concerned person(s) why action should not be taken against them for violating the rules. The worker/s or the trade union will reply to the charge sheet, and if the management is not satisfied with the reply the worker can be suspended and an enquiry held.
Conciliation can be done at the local level between union and management and also the government. The worker or management can take the case to the labour officer for conciliation. This is primarily a process of persuasion. Officials can only persuade both sides to agree. The labour officer cannot force its views on the parties. The process of conciliation must be complete within two weeks. If no progress is made, the labour official can submit a failure report. This report is important for any future course of action.
After failure of conciliation, there are two courses of action available to both parties, labour and management, one of which is arbitration. In this case, both parties have to agree to a person who is independent and neutral to serve as arbitrator. The latter will review the case and will give his judgement.
It is expected that both parties will accept this decision as final. Arbitration is voluntary for both sides. Hence it may not be binding for the party that feels that the decision is not fair. However, once the parties agree to arbitration they cannot approach any other office for seeking justice.
For the workers, if they or their union disagrees with the decision, the next course of action will be a strike. This is possible if conciliation fails and arbitration is not acceptable. The workers can opt for a strike within seven days of the failure. During this time it is mandatory that a strike ballot is held by the workers or their unions. If the majority favour a strike, the workers must give a strike notice thirty days before it takes place.
The path that can be followed in lieu of arbitration is adjudication. This means that the dispute can be taken to the Labour Court by either party. Before seeking relief from the Labour Court, the labour department of the state government must give the go-ahead, and no dispute can go directly to the labour court without the approval of the department. This can happen only if conciliation fails.
If either party does not agree with the decision of the labour court it can go to the next level of the judiciary, viz. the High Court and then the Supreme Court.
We can see that the paths of dispute settlement are complicated and at times long-drawn. Arbitration may take less time to reach a settlement but this may not be acceptable to both sides. The path of adjudication grants more choices but it can be time-consuming. For a case to reach the Supreme Court, the worker may have to wait for ten years or more.
Justice in India takes a lot of time and is not cheap as it involves lawyer’s fees and a host of other expenses. This delay in getting justice hurts workers the most because they may not have the resources to fight long legal battles, while employers may have the resources to prolong the judicial process. The old saying, ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ may well hold true in these cases.