Collective bargaining- Meaning, Definitions, Collective Bargaining in India

Process of Collective Bargaining

The collective bargaining process begins with some sort of labor disagreement, when a union or group of workers doesn’t see eye to eye with an employer on a particular employment issue. The first stage of the process involves preparation, where each side chooses a representative to represent their respective interest in the negotiations.
Next, the parties meet for a discussion. The negotiation process can frequently turn heated and emotionally charged. For that reason, the parties typically agree to certain ground rules before beginning, in order to avoid conflict which could cause the process to fail. Once the specifics of the dispute have been discussed, the parties exchange proposals of options to resolve the dispute. This is followed by the bargaining process, whereby the parties explore various potential compromises.
As the parties get close to reaching an agreement, a tentative written collective bargaining agreement is drafted, revised, and developed as the parties reach a final agreement. Once all terms are firm, the final collective bargaining agreement is reviewed and signed by both parties, and becomes a binding contract.
The following diagram shows various steps involved in the collective bargaining process.

Collective Bargaining Process

Collective Bargaining in India

Collective bargaining was introduced in India for the first time in 1952; and it gradually acquired importance and significance in the following years. Though information on the growth of the collective bargaining process is somewhat meagre, the data released by the Labour Bureau show that the practice of determining the rates of wages and conditions of employment through collective agreement has spread to most of the major segments of the national economy.
Like many other countries, in India, collective bargaining got some impetus from various statutory and voluntary provisions. The Trade Disputes Act 1929, the Bombay Industrial Relations Act 1946, the Industrial Disputes Act 1947, and the Madhya Pradesh Industrial Relations Act 1960, provided a machinery for consultation and paved the way for collective bargaining. Among the voluntary measures, mention may be made to the different tripartite conferences, joint consultative machineries, code of discipline, and Central and State Implementation and Evaluation Units.
Collective bargaining was traditionally conducted at the industry level as in the case of TISCO, Indian Aluminium Company, and Bata Shoe Company. In some industrial units, detailed grievance procedures have been laid down by mutual agreements. The collective agreement signed between the TISCO and the Tata Workers’ Union in 1956 embodies a provision for grievance procedures and closer association of employees with management. The Belur report of 1958, which is a study by Subbiah Kannappan and his associated in the Indian Aluminium Company is one of the best published case studies on collective bargaining in India. It throws light on the factors responsible for creating a favourable bargaining relationship between the management and the union.
The best example of an industry level agreement is offered by the textile industry of Mumbai and Ahmedabad. The agreement between the Ahmedabad Millowncr’s Association and the Ahmedabad Textile Labour Association, which were signed on 27th June 1955, laid down the procedure to be followed for the grant of bonus and the voluntary settlement of industrial disputes. The practice of industry wise bargaining continues to prevail in the cotton textile industry in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal. In most other industries, particularly in modern industry groups, collective agreements arc entered into at the plant or enterprise level.
The agreements at the national level are generally bipartite agreements and are finalized at the conference of labour and management convened by the Government of India. The bonus agreement for plantation workers was concluded in January 1956 between the representatives of the Indian Tea Association and the India Tea Planters’ Association on the one hand, and the Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS) and the Indian National Trade Unions Congress on the other. The agreement was about the payment of bonus to about one million plantation workers.
The EFI study covered 109 collective agreements, relating to 77 companies and 11 industrial associations. Results of the study show that the collective agreements have included all levels. Industry-wide agreements were concluded in engineering, textiles, and tea plantations, and plant-wide or company-wide agreements were the norm in most other industries.
The EFI study found “two categories of subjects to have figured prominently in the collective agreements, one having a direct bearing on the pay packet and the other relating to leisure and leave.” Wages, dearness allowance, retirement benefits and bonus are illustrations of the first category, and annual leave, paid holidays, and casual leave arc of the second.
Out of the 109 agreements analysed, 96 dealt with wages and 50 with bonus. As for the duration of the agreements as many as 49 were for a period of 3 years, 18 were for a period of 5 years and only a small number were for a period of less than 2 years. There arc 31 agreements, which dealt with the whole range of topics comprising wages, conditions of employment, and fringe benefits. The rest of them covered one or more specific subjects. The study makes the following concluding observations:
“Another notable feature of the agreements under reference, which is of considerable importance for the development and maintenance of harmonious industrial relations, is the recognition of their mutual rights and responsibilities by the representatives of the management and employees. Under a number of agreements, the unions have recognised the right of the management among other things, to introduce new or improved methods of production, establish production schedules and standards and make rules for maintaining discipline and securing effective operation of the plant. The management on their part have recognized the unions as bargaining agents and pledged to desist from unfair labour practices such as interference with the right of the workman to organize and join a union and discrimination against them because of their membership of a union. In the same manner, the trade union have agreed to follow the constitutional methods as laid down in the grievance procedure to redress the grievances of their members and to desist from indulging in or encouraging unfair labour practices.
The new experiment in the form of bipartite negotiating committees was first pioneered in the iron and steel industry in 1970. Early in that year, a Joint Steel Wage Negotiating Committee was formed. The NJCS is composed of representatives of employers and employees. The employers’ side is represented by Indian Iron and Steel Company (I1SCO) and Tata Iron and Steel Company (TISCO), and from all the public sector steel plants. On the employees’ side, there are three members each from the central trade union organisations, namely, the All India Trade Union Congress, the Indian National Trade Union Congress, Centre of Indian Trade Unions, and the Hind Mazdoor Sab ha. Till now, the Committee has signed six agreements.
The coalmines in India were nationalized in 1973. There were agitations by the unions prior to 1973 because wage improvements sanctioned by the Coal Wage Board in 1967 had not been implemented by several mine owners and operators. The government was not in favour of appointing another wage board for the industry and felt, instead, that wages and other matters in coalmining should be settled through negotiations and collective bargaining. Subsequently, the committee has signed six bipartite settlements regarding wage revision, working conditions, and other issues relating to the coal industry.

The following steps may be considered for promoting collective bargaining in our country:
♦ Collective bargaining should be declared as an integral pan of India’s national Industrial
Relations Policy. In order to give it a constitutional sanctity, it should be incorporated in the Directive Principles of States Policy.
♦ The two relevant instruments setting international standards regarding collective bargaining, namely, Convention 98, concerning the application of principles of the right to organize and to bargain collectively adopted in 1949, and Recommendation 91, concerning collective agreements adopted in 1951, should be ratified/implemented.
♦ Collective bargaining should be adopted as a pan of the corporate personnel policy in all public sector enterprises, departmental undertakings, and in public utility services.
♦ There should be drastic trade union reforms such as (a) recognition of the majoring union as bargaining agent (b) development of a trained and educated cadre of worker-leaders through strong, enlightened, responsible and democratic trade union; and (c) gradual delinking of trade unions from political panics.
♦ More emphasis should be given on mutual settlement of industrial disputes through collective bargaining rather than adjudication. A beginning has to be made in this direction by declaring that collective bargaining will acquire primacy in the procedure for settling industrial disputes.

In future, trade unions and management may have to be guided by market forces (survival of the fittest) cost effective global manufacturing, high-tech/high quality service oriented approach, customer centred marketing and manufacturing proccsses-while sharing the gains from industry. Political and ideological concerns may have to take a back seat. The full potential and gravity of technology-led growth needs to be appreciated by both management and labour while they try to wrest concessions from each other at the negotiating table. Concession-bargaining may rule the scene till the industry gains statureand status in the global market.

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