Why White-Collar Workers’ Unions?




Seeing how unions of blue-collar workers had improved their service, employment and working conditions by bargaining collectively with their employers for better and regular payment of wages, bonus and other fringe benefits, and job and social security, whitecollar workers also started uniting and organising themselves and forming their unions for fighting for better pay scales, more fringe benefits, internal promotion by collective bargaining, agitation and litigation. Other factors responsible for the growth of white collar unionism are discussed below.

1.  Denial of both Job Security and Social Security to them by their exclusion from the purview of labour laws like; Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, and Laws relating to wages, bonus and social security against such social risks as sickness, maternity, premature death, and permanent or temporary disabilities caused by accidents, old age and retirement.

2.  Anomalies in pay caused by implementation of the recommendations of Wage Boards and Pay Commissions.

3.  Nationalisation and consequent rationalisation of pay and perquisites.

4. White and Blue collar workers unions are mostly registered under the Trade Unions Act, 1926 and are generally known as workers and employees Unions, white-collar workers unions are registered either under the Trade Unions Act, 1926, or under the Societies Registration Act, 1860, and are known as employees unions, or employees or staff associations. Since the immunity from civil and criminal prosecution is provided to unions, its members and office bearers for bona fide trade union activities under the Trade Unions Act, and as this is not specifically provided under the Societies Registration Act, 1860 the white-collar workers organisations registered as association under the latter Act have to be selective in using pressures for getting their demand met. They generally take recourse to mass casual leave, work to rule, peaceful demonstrations and dharnas, or hunger strike, rather than to strike, picketing and boisterous agitation and demonstration.

5.  Members of white-collar unions are more educated, knowledgeable and intelligent, and, therefore, they are more capable in negotiating and bargaining for their demands. Their union leadership is, therefore, mostly internal or endogenous. As blue-collar workers are largely illiterate or low educated, the leadership is more external than internal, as they require the help of the outsiders in bargaining for them collectively and representing them in conciliation, arbitration and adjudication proceedings under the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.

6.  Financially and membership-wise white-collar unions are stronger than blue-collar unions. Small membership and poor finances make the latter more dependent on outside leadership and political parties for their day to day working, negotiations with employers, and conciliation and adjudication of their disputes. These outsiders may not work always entirely in the interest of workers. Increasing militancy of blue-collar unions could be attributed to some extend to their poor bargaining power and frustration.

7.  White-collar unions suffer must less from multiplicity, politicalisation and outside leadership, and consequently from inter-union rivalries than the blue-collar unions. They, therefore, have better bargaining power and greater possibility of arriving at collective and bipartite agreements. Most of the whitecollar unions are independent, as they are not affiliated to central trade union organisations with different political ideologies. All India Federation of Railwaymen (AITUC), and National Federation of Indian Railwaymen (INTUC) are working more cohesively than as rivals. Similar is the case with All India Bank Employees Association and National Union of Bank Employees, they do not sacrifice the interests of their members for some political gains.

8.  Lastly, some of the white-collar employees may be outside the purview of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, and so may have the problem of job security which their unions may have to look after. This may not be the problem with Blue-collar Unions as their members are almost covered by the I.D. Act, 1947.

9.  Inconsistent and discriminatory promotion and salary policies which have been causing so many conflicts and disputes.

10. Gradual narrowing of wages and salaries differentials of blue and white-collar workers due to fast improvement in the wages and fringe benefits of the former organization account of their union activities, and so causing feeling of deprivation among white-collar workers.

11.  Inflation and soaring prices resulting in erosion of pay and standard living of whitecollar workers, and thus leading to demand for higher pay, dearness allowance and annual bonus and other fringe benefits. It is because of unions of the Government employees and public sectors undertakings who had been excluded from the purview of the Payment of Bonus Act, 1965, enabled them to receive now annual bonus worked out on the basis provided under this Act.


Distinguishing Features of White-Collar Unions

There are some noteworthy features of unions of white-collar workers which distinguish them from that of the blue-collar unions as stated briefly below:

a) Managerial Association

Managerial trade unionism is no longer a fiction, but is an established fact. Though this phenomenon is more than forty years old, it is yet to be considered as worthwhile to be concerned with either by the Government, or by the central bodies of trade unions, or by academicians. The Government could not enact a legislation concerning this aspect of trade unionism, or could not introduce some procedure for redressal of grievances of the managerial staff. The Central orgnisations of trade unions could have provided leadership or guidance for proper organisation of such unions. The academicians, if they had wished, could have attempted an in-depth study of managerial unionism and workshops. It is only the corporate managements who could not ignore this happening. In fact they are finding it difficult to develop working relations with their managers and other officers in the absence of any corporate or national policy on this subject.

b) Nature of Managerial Association

Hardly any organisation of managerial employees is a union. They are known as Officers’ associations registered either under the Societies Registration Act, 1860, or under the Trade Unions Act, 1926. The officers do not like their association to be equated with a trade union, though many of their organisations are registered under the Trade Unions Act, 1927. Some cases are also reported to be pending in the Courts, wherein the officers of certain oranisations are claiming that they are not managers but workmen, and they should be given protection under the provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. The purpose of managerial unions is not very much different from that of other trade unions for employees at different but lower levels in the hierarchy. The means and strategies may differ in the sense that the managerial unions are relatively soft in their wheelings and dealings than most of the blue-collar unions.

Employer-Employee The officers eligible for membership of such associations are below the level of Relations

Director. They may be from the rank of trainees and upward up to the rank of Deputy General Manager, and in some cases even the General Manager. It is the junior and middle level managers who provide leadership of these associations. These officers rise from the ranks, and as members of the non-executive cadre they may have had prolonged experience as members of trade unions, if not, as office-bearers.

In India, Managerial unionism is more in public sector than in private sector. Its lesser development in private sector may be due to the fact that most of the organisations in this sector are usually small, and, therefore, they are free from the cold and impersonal atmosphere usually found in large bureaucratic organisations. In small organisations the problems and difficulties of the officers do not remain unattended. Such individualised attention is supposed to be missing in big public sector establishments. The other possible reason for slower growth of managerial trade unions in private sector may be that there employers are not willing to permit their officers to combine and form unions of their own.

The emergence of Officers Associations in the public sector is relatively a new happening, whereas these associations have existed in the banking industry and insurance companies for a fairly long time. In Western Europe officers are organised in almost all countries, and there also it predominates in the public sector. There the formation of such unions have been facilitated by the fact that demarcation between a workman and non-workman is not so rigid as in India, and there trade unions are also not so apathetic towards officers association as they are here in India. In fact there the unions want to bring officers unions under the banner of the existing trade unions. 


Why Managerial Association

i) Feeling of relative deprivation has been an important reasons for the officers/ managers to organise themselves and form their associations for obtaining fair deal from their managements. There has been a feeling that as compared to unionised cadre of workmen and lower staff they have been getting a raw deal. They complain about narrowing wage differentials generally. It is after the management had negotiated a settlement with the unionised staff and a settlement is arrived at, the ad hoc increase in emoluments is given to them unilaterally, which is usually less than the increase given emoluments of the junior officers and the wages of the senior workmen.

ii) Feeling of insecurity is another reason for the growth of officers unions. They do not have that enormous protection under the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, which is enjoyed by the employees covered by this Act. They are left high and dry to fend for themselves. This has made them to realise the message of “unit and organise” to protect the interest of their membership through collective bargaining, a strategy of which efficacy has been demonstrated amply by the workmen and staff unions.

iii) Growing harassment of managerial staff by their subordinates: The authority of the managers has been grossly eroded by the unionised workmen and staff. They are making it difficult for the managers to take work from them by being emboldened by the support from their union and protection they enjoy from labour legislation. Under pressure of the unionised staff top management often fails to provide the required support to junior and middle level managers. Even whenever they are as­saulted by the workmen, the matters are hushed up for maintaining industrial peace. Managerial unions have been formed to pressurise top management to provide neces­sary protection against such harassment.

iv) To be a Third Force between the Working Class and the Management: Being denied the protection of labour laws, and as well as of the privilege of a real manager, the junior and middle level managers have gone for the only option left to them, that

is, the formation of the Officers Association. They would not like to be considered as part and parcel of either of the working class or the management, but as a “third force” between these two groups.