The underline idea of former trade union is to negotiate and bargain with employers to improve the service and employment conditions of workers on their behalf. This collective bargaining process can be possible only when employer recognises a trade union as bargaining agent and agree to negotiate with it because it is difficult to negotiate with multiple trade unions in a single organisation.
The Trade Union Act, 1926, the only Central Law, which regulates the working of the unions does not have any provision for recognition of trade union. Some attempts were made to include compulsory recognition in the Trade Union Act in 1947, 1950, 1978 and 1988, but it could not be materialised.
There are, however, state legislations like Maharashtra Recognition of Trade Union and Prevention of Unfair Labour Practices Act 1971, Madhya Pradesh Industrial Relations Act, 1960 and other states like Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Orrisa etc. which have gone for such legislations, of late.
The usual methods used to determine union strength, which is the basis of the recognitions are following:
1. Election by Secret Ballot: Under which system, all eligible workers of an establishment may vote for their chosen union, elections to be conducted by a neutral agent, generally the Registrar of Unions, in a manner very similar to the conduct of general elections. Once held, the results of the elections would remain valid for a minimum period, usually two years.
2. Check-Off method: Under which each individual worker authorises management in writing to deduct union fees from his wages and credit it to the chosen union. This gives management concrete evidene about the respective strengths of the unions. But the system is also prone to manipulation, particularly collision between management and a favoured union. Sometimes, genuine mistakes may occur, particularly when the
number of employees is large. It also depends on all unions accepting the method and cooperating in its implementation.
3. Verifiction of union membership method by the labour directorate as adopted as a resolution in the same session of the ILC and used widely in many establishments. This process is carried out by the labour directorate, which on the invitation of unions and management of an organisation or industry, collects particulars of all unions in a plant, with regard to their registration and membership. The claim lists of the unions, their fees books, membership records and account books are scrutinised for duplicate membership. Under a later amendment, unions also with lists of members in order to avoid dual membership. After cross checking of records, physical sampling of workers, particularly in cases of doubt or duplication, a final verified list is prepared for employers, unions and the government.
4. Rule of Thumb or intelligent guessing by management or general observation to assess union strength, either by the response at gate meetings, strikes or discussions with employees. This is not a reliable method, particularly in large estalishments and can also be subject to change at short intervals.
Of the above methods the first one is universally accepted method used all over the world but there has been no consensus amount among the trade unions on that in India.
The Second National Commission of Labour (2003) considered the issues seriously and made the following recommendations:
- We recommend that the negotiating agent should be selected for recognition on the basis of the check off system. A union with 66% membership be entitled to be accepted as the single negotiating agent, and if no union has 66% support, then unions that have the support of more than 25% should be given proportionate representation on the negotiating college.
- Secret ballot is logically and financially a difficult process in certain industries. Check-off system has the advantage of ascertaining the relative strength of trade unions. Check-off system should be made compulsory for all establishments employing 300 or more workers. For establishments employing less than 300 workers also the check-off system would be the preferred mode. Recognition once granted, should be valid for a period of four years, to be coterminous with the period of settlement.
Recognised unions have certain rights,
- the right to raise issues with the management,
- right to collect membership fees within the premises of the organisation,
- ability to demand check-off facility,
- ability to put up a notice board on the premises for union announcements,
- ability to hold discussions with employees at a suitable place within the premises
- right to discuss members’ grievances with employer,
- ability to inspect before hand a place of employment or work of its members, and
- nomination of its representatives on committees formed by the management for industrial relations purposes as well as in statutory bipartite committees.