WHY HAS COLLECTIVE BARGAINING (BIPARTITISM) NOT FLOURISHED IN INDIA? - Industrial Relations Management

Collective bargaining is the ultimate in negotiations and is possible only when workers’ and employers’ organizations are equally strong, mature and conscious of their rights and duties.

In India both bipartism and tripartitism have co-existed but they generally operate at different levels. At the unit level it is generally the bipartitism that has flourished whereas at the industry and national levels it is the tripartitism that has prevailed. Some reasons for bipartitism not flourishing at the national level are that:

  • labour is a concurrent subject;
  • There are varying conditions of work and life in different parts of the country;
  • There is absence of strong central unions and employers’ organizations who can represent country-wide interests; and
  • There are a number of problems (e.g., layoffs and closures) which need to be looked at from the point of view of larger objectives of government policy. Hence in tackling such problems government’s participation at the national level becomes unavoidable.

Even at the plant-level bipartitism has not made much headway in our country due to the following reasons:

  1. Excessive Dependence on Compulsory Adjudication for the Settlement of Industrial Disputes. There is not a single piece of legislation at the national level which requires an employer to bargain or prescribes the method of indentifying a bargaining agent. There is no law requiring voluntary agreements to be registered or giving any guarantee that a rival union will not raise a dispute on the very subjects already covered by a voluntary agreement. On the other hand, what the Industrial Disputes Act provides is a system of conciliation and compulsory adjudication which, therefore, have remained the main stay for a large number of industrial organizations and trade unions in our country.
  2. Reduction in the Area of Collective Bargaining. The area of collective bargaining has gradually receded in recent years due to the emergence of several new institutions and modes such as wage boards, statutory fixation of minimum wages and payment of bonus, regulations of fines and deductions, working hours, overtime payment, holidays, leave and other working and employment conditions including welfare and social security measures.
  3. Weak Trade Union Movement. Trade union movement still covers only a small portion of the total industrial employment. Besides, the unions are too weak to bargain collectively on account of their small membership, poor financial resources, their multiplicity, inter-union and intra-union rivalry, politicization, poor leadership and absence of suitable legislative provisions for recognizing them as bargaining agents. In no unit, far less in an industry, do we have a union which is recognized and is recognizable as a representative union with which an employer can negotiate a settlement in the hope that it would be acceptable to all and endure for stipulated period. And so far we have not evolved a fool-proof system to determine the majority union.
  4. Little Government Support. The government has shown little interest in collective bargaining because
    • it does not have confidence in the bargaining strength of our trade unions,
    • it has fear of strikes and lockouts,
    • it has fear of the communists gaining in strength, and,
    • it has apprehension of the planned economy being disrupted by inflation, etc.

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