Collective Bargaining Under Indian Employment Law

The process of collective bargaining under Indian employment laws is like negotiating a deal. Parallels can be drawn with the Marketing Departments of a Company with a manufacturing set up, negotiating with new customers for a solid profit margin. Even though collective bargaining does not find mention in any of the labour laws in India it is a vital activity that keeps unnecessary Industrial violence and labour unrest at bay.

Collective bargaining under Indian employment law, as a process, requires a lot of patience. During the collective bargaining process the behaviour of the Union Committee is sometimes arrogant and rude and one often hears echoes of negotiations on shop floor. Workers refuse to come for overtime; they collectively create problems in bottleneck areas so as to affect production. Sabotaging also cannot be ruled out.

Therefore, while negotiating one has to be diplomatic, firm and be willing to wear the workers out. Wearing out should not take a long time. On some issues, the management should be flexible and on some, the management should make their stand very clear. If the management is keen on having better productivity, the Union should be addressed at the beginning itself and in the negotiation process, continuous hammering of the subject is imperative.

In the past, managements used to be prepared for strikes, but in the present competitive business world, it is difficult to have prolonged shut downs or lock outs. The period of work stoppage cannot be decided though it can be judged. Therefore keeping the option of small confrontations in mind, negotiations should be conducted.

The success of negotiations depend largely on the credibility of the negotiator in the eyes of the workers as well as the Union leader, if the credibility is good, early settlement can be reached quickly. But if the credibility of the negotiator is doubtful then early settlement may be ruled out.

Though there is no set formula for a successful negotiation, the experience of the negotiator who has signed many settlements shows through his fairness and transparency in exchanging information. The credibility of the negotiator plays an important role.

If the management is keen to achieve productivity, the negotiations should not be stuck on productivity. A circled approach can be adopted, contentious issues can be discussed and if meeting of minds is not possible on the issues, other issues can be resolved. For example, in one company in the service sector, there were more than twenty issues of difference of opinion. The contentious issue was withdrawal of the suspension of four employees as well as productivity and agreement benefits. Other issues were incidental to financial benefits and general service conditions yet the negotiations were stuck on withdrawal of suspension.

The management was not willing to withdraw the suspension and the workers were not willing to proceed without withdrawal. The negotiator prevailed over the Union by telling them that both parties should keep their respective stands firm on this issue and try to resolve other issues. After some initial hesitation, the Union accepted the proposition. Over a period of one month, all other issues were resolved except commitment to give production and withdrawal of suspension.

The workers realised that their financial demands and service conditions would be improved. However, the stumbling block was suspension vis-a-vis productivity. The management was keen to achieve productivity and was looking at commitment and linking of benefits to the productivity. The management was also serious about going ahead with disciplinary actions. However, when the workers agreed to accept productivity and linkage of part of the benefits with the productivity the management decided to give up insistence on continuing with disciplinary actions.

Finally, the suspended workers tendered an apology and the workers agreed to give productivity linked with financial benefits.

Industrial violence in India cannot be ruled out in today’s scenario. In society, even on the streets, road rage is very common. The educated class gets into verbal as well as physical fights for the smallest of reasons. Industrial life is no different. Therefore, keeping passions under control and avoiding confrontation is a skilful and important attribute. Any act of violence results into disciplinary actions and adds one more subject for negotiations. Therefore it is always necessary to avoid violence. Violence can be sparked off even by small issues like not allowing Trade Union leaders entry into the premises or usage of abusive language by the officers of the Company. In a tense industrial environment, even a small incident can trigger violence; therefore, one has to be very careful in the collective bargaining process.

The Negotiating Team should plan negotiations in advance. The strategy as to who should be aggressive and who submissive should be decided beforehand. The Negotiator should ensure that the worker’s representatives who are aggressive in their approach are told before hand that aggression may lead to prolongation of the negotiations and may result into disciplinary actions. A word of advice to the Union committee and interaction with the Union leader plays very crucial role to avoid violence.

Common sense and a working knowledge of the labour and industrial laws in India is most essential for successful collective bargaining, involvement of a person who is interacting with workers on a daily basis and regular communication with masses is also important. There is no formula of successful negotiations. Every negotiation is like a new painting; however, success of negotiations depends upon patience, skill of communication and credibility.

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