A trade union or labour union is an organization of workers who have come together to achieve common goals such as better working conditions. The trade union, through its leadership, bargains with the employer on behalf of union members and negotiates labour contracts (Collective Bargaining) with employers.

Webbs has defined a trade union as a continuous association of wage earners formed with the objective of maintaining and improving the conditions of working. As per the Trade Unions Act, 1926, a trade union has been defined as ‘any combination be that temporary or otherwise permanent formed with the sole objective of regulating the relationship between the employees and employers or otherwise for imposing of restrictive conditions on conduct of any kind of trade/business’.

Learn about:- 1. Meaning and Definition of Trade Union 2. Registration of a Trade Union 3. Need 4. Main Features 5. Objectives 6. Role 7. Function 8. Problems 9. Advantages and Disadvantages 10. Suggestions to Strengthen.

Trade Union: Meaning, Definition, Need, Features, Objectives, Role, Function, Problems and Suggestions

  1. Meaning and Definition of Trade Union
  2. Registration of a Trade Union
  3. Need Joining a Trade Union
  4. Main Features of Trade Union
  5. Objectives of Trade Union
  6. Role of Trade Union
  7. Function of Trade Union
  8. Problems of Trade Union
  9. Advantages and Disadvantages  of Trade Union
  10. Suggestions to Strengthen of Trade Union

Trade Union – Meaning and Definition

An organisation formed temporarily or permanently, that employees can join with a view to having their interests and goals better represented are called trade unions. A worker will have their interests more powerfully represented than if they had to negotiate with employers on their own in return they have to pay an annual subscription.

Entire trade unions have objectives or goals to achieve, which are contained in their constitution and each has its own strategy to reach those goals.

Now a days, unions are considered a sub-system, which serves the specific sub-groups interest (i.e., the workers) and also considers itself an integral part of the organisation, in terms of the hitter’s viability and contribution to the growth of the community of which it is a part. Therefore, there are trade unions of blue-collar workers, white-collar employees and also employers.

A trade union or labour union is an organization of workers who have come together to achieve common goals such as better working conditions. The trade union, through its leadership, bargains with the employer on behalf of union members and negotiates labour contracts (Collective Bargaining) with employers.

This may include negotiation of wages, work rules, complaint procedures, rules governing hiring, firing and promotion of workers, benefits, workplace safety and policies. The agreements negotiated by the union leaders are binding on the rank and file members and the employer and in some cases on other non-member workers.

Originating in Europe, trade unions became popular in many countries during the Industrial Revolution (which disrupted the older way of life and created a new society forged by the shop, the factory, the mine and the industry) when the lack of skill necessary to perform most jobs shifted employment bargaining power almost completely to the employers’ side, causing many workers to be mistreated and underpaid.

Trade unions are formed to protect the interests of the employees. There are some 164 million trade union members’ worldwide, making trade union the world’s largest ‘social movement’. This number represents only one in twenty of the world’s three billion workers, the rest remain unrepresented.

Webbs has defined a trade union as a continuous association of wage earners formed with the objective of maintaining and improving the conditions of working. As per the Trade Unions Act, 1926, a trade union has been defined as ‘any combination be that temporary or otherwise permanent formed with the sole objective of regulating the relationship between the employees and employers or otherwise for imposing of restrictive conditions on conduct of any kind of trade/business’.

The definitions refer to the following aspects:

i. Association of employees or employers or otherwise of independent workers,

ii. Relative permanent formation of workers, and

iii. Formed for securing economic benefits such as better wages and better working/living conditions and social benefits such as educational, recreational, and medical benefits for the members. The collectiveness of the employees offers strength against any kind of irrational, arbitrary, and illegal action of the employers.

The objective of the trade union was to primarily provide solutions to any problems the worker encountered while discharging his responsibilities, both personal and organizational. In other words, the primary objective of the trade union was to protect the interests of the workers and the employers in the organization.

The areas of focus for the trade union include the following:

i. Providing satisfactory wages and salaries to each member and worker.

ii. Improving the working conditions of workers and providing better health and safety provisions.

iii. Inculcating a sense of discipline among themselves, which would facilitate smooth conduct of negotiation between the employees and the employers.

iv. Facilitating the fight of the workers against any irrational policies of the management.

v. Striving for the welfare of the members through guidance and counselling.

Trade Union – Registration

The Trade Unions Act, 1926 has made provisions for registration of trade unions. Under these provisions, a State Government has been authorized to appoint a Registrar of Trade Unions for the State. It may also appoint Additional and Deputy Registrars as it thinks fit for the purpose of exercising and discharging the powers and functions of the Registrar. Application for registration of a trade union may be made by seven or more persons who want to constitute the union.

The application must be accompanied by a copy of rules of the trade union and a statement of the following particulars:

1. Names, addresses, and occupations of the members making the application.

2. Name of the union and address of its head office.

3. Titles, names, ages, addresses, and occupations of office bearers of the trade union.

Where a trade union has been in existence for more than one year prior to the application for its registration, a general statement of its assets and liabilities prepared in the prescribed form has also to be delivered to the Registrar together with the application. The Registrar, on being satisfied that the trade union has complied with all the requirements of the Act in regard to its registration, shall register the trade union under Section 8 of the Act and issue a certificate of registration.

Upon registration, a trade union acquires the following characteristics:

1. It becomes a body corporate by the name under which it is registered and becomes a legal entity.

2. It has perpetual succession and a common seal.

3. It has the power to acquire and hold both movable and immovable properties.

4. It has the power to contract.

5. It can sue and be sued by the name under which it is registered.

Trade Union – Causes that Make the Employees to Join a Trade Union

The important causes that make the employees to join a trade union are as under:

Cause # 1. Increase in Bargaining Power:

Leaving of the job impose a great financial and emotional burden upon the worker. The better course for him is to join a union that can take concerted action against the employer. The threat or actuality of a strike by a union is a powerful tool that often causes the employer to acceded to the demands of the workers for better conditions of employment.

Cause # 2. Helps in Decreasing Discrimination:

The personal relationships existing between the supervisor and each of his subordinates may influence the management’s decision regarding pay, work, transfer, promotion, etc. Thus, there are chances of favouritisms and discriminations.

A trade union can compel the management to formulate personnel policies that press for equality of treatment to the workers. All the labour decisions of the management are taken under close scrutiny of the labour union. This results in minimising favouritism and discrimination.

Cause # 3. Sense of Participation:

With the help of trade union, its member employees can participate in management of the matters that affect their interests only in case they have joined trade unions. They can influence the decisions that are taken as a result of collective bargaining between the union and the management.

Cause # 4. Platform for Self-Expression:

A trade union provides such a platform where the feelings, ideas and opinions of the workers can be discussed. There is a transmissible of the feelings, ideas, opinions and complaints of the workers to the management. The collective voice of the workers is heard by the management and given due consideration while taking policy decisions by the management.

Cause # 5. Betterment of Relationships:

It is the belief of employees that unions can fulfil the important need for adequate machinery for proper maintenance of employer-employee relations. Unions help in betterment of employee relations among management and workers by solving the problems peacefully.

Cause # 6. Sense of Security:

Trade union is an effective way to secure for them adequate protection from various types of hazards and income insecurity such as accident, injury, illness, unemployment, etc. The trade union also secures retirement benefits of the workers and compel the management to invest in welfare services for the betterment of the workers.

Trade Union – 6 Main Features: Dealing with Collective Action, Acts as a Mediator, Voluntary Association, Creates Unity among Employees and a Few Others

The main features of a trade union are as under:

Feature # 1. Dealing with Collective Action:

By means of collective action, trade unions attempt to match the power and resources of the employers. This collective nature of activities alone helps the trade unions to establish equality with the employers. It also facilitates better bargaining with the employers on matters relating to the interests and rights of the employees. It is not possible by individual actions.

Feature # 2. Acts as a Mediator:

The trade unions play the role of mediator. Trade union eliminates the employers’ need to consult each and every employee before taking decisions affecting him. Instead, the employers talk to trade unions that represent the employees.

The trade unions, in turn, pass on the information to the employees through their own sources. They also undertake the responsibility of convincing the employees about the decisions taken by the employers in consultation with them.

Feature # 3. Voluntary Association:

So, individuals agree on their own to join and act together with a view to trying and fulfilling the purposes for which they come together. A trade union has a large number of worker members from one or more occupations a trade union is a voluntary association of employees.

Feature # 4. Creates Unity among Employees:

Members of a trade union have common interests and problems. This commonness motivates the members to stand unite. A union seeks to regulate relations between employers and workers.

Feature # 5. Authority vested with the Members:

Since trade unions are voluntary associations of employees, the leaders are elected by the members. In this way, the real authority is vested only with the members of the unions. This is in contrast to the formal organisations, where authority flows from the top to the bottom.

Feature # 6. Sub-System of Social System:

A trade union is a sub-system of the social system. As such, its character undergoes change as the changes come in economic, social, legal and political conditions of the country. A union functions collectively to safeguard and promote the interests of its members within a given socio-economic system together.

Trade Union – Top 7 Objectives: To Preserve Physical Security, Maintain Job Security, Provide Income Security, Procuring Political Powers and a Few Others

The main objectives of trade unions are as under:

Objective # 1. To Preserve Physical Security:

Trade unions preserve the health and safety of the employees by asking the employers to provide suitable physical work environment and by insisting on their adherence to safety policies and machinery.

Objective # 2. To Maintain Job Security:

Trade union protects the jobs of the employees. Whenever the employees face a threat of elimination from the employers, in any form like dismissal, discharge, layoff, retrenchment or compulsory retirement, trade unions resist strongly such designs of the employers to terminate the employees’ services.

Objective # 3. To Provide Income Security:

Trade unions strive to improve the economic life of the employees they do so by getting better wage deals from the employers along with a collective action.

Objective # 4. Procuring Political Powers:

To improve the bargaining power of the employees the Trade Unions work closely with the political parties of the country. In our country, the inter-relations and interactions between trade unions and political parties are quite common. In fact, trade unions may even function as wings or affiliates of political parties. Obviously, the political power of the union is used to safeguard the employees’ interests.

Objective # 5. To Foster Industrial Democracy and Equity:

Trade unions attempt to promote democratic values by holding elections at the periodic intervals with the purpose to choose their leaders. The democratic exercise empowers the grass-roots workers to participate in the organisational decision-making process indirectly by choosing their own leaders.

It enables even the lowest-cadre employee to become an office-bearer of a union and participate in collective bargaining at the highest levels of the management. In this way a trade union ends in achieving industrial democracy, peace and equity.

Objective # 6. To Provide Social Security:

Trade unions endeavour to provide a calm retired life to the employees by asking the employers to provide them with adequate retirement and other various kinds of benefits for them.

They may ensure that the employers contribute adequately and regularly to the statutory funds that are meant to protect the future well-being of the employees. They may also insist on the employers offering organisational-level schemes for improving the employees’ retirement benefits.

Objective # 7. To Provide Emotional Security:

Trade unions aim to improve the employer-employee relationship they do so by constantly engaging in negotiations with the management. A systematics way is applied to improve the superior-subordinate relationship by resolving the workplace grievances of the workers from a very suitable means. Thus, the trade unions, by ensuring peace and harmony at the workplace, provide emotional security to the employees.

Trade Union – Role: Wages and Salaries Implementation, Working Conditions, Protection from Disciplinary Actions and a Few Others

However, trade unions specifically concentrate their attention, to perform the following roles:

(a) Wages and Salaries Implementation:

Wages and salaries implementation in organised sector and unorganised sector, the trade union plays a crucial role in bargaining the pay scales.

(b) Working Conditions:

Trade unions with a view for safeguarding the health of workers, demands the management to provide all the basic facilities, such as better lighting / ventilation / sanitation / rest rooms / safety equipment / drinking water / lunch place / leave and rest/ holidays with pay and other welfare measures.

(c) Protection from Disciplinary Actions:

Trade unions protects the victims of management’s unilateral acts and disciplinary policies. Such victimisation may take the form of penal transfers / suspensions / demise etc.

(d) Improper Implementation of Personal Policies:

Trade unions fight against improper, implementation of personnel policies in respect of recruitment, selection, promotions transfers / training etc.

(e) Welfare of Workers:

Trade unions brings to the notice of management, the difficulties of workers in respect of sanitation / hospital treatment / residential quarters / schooling facilities to children.

(f) Employee-Employer Relations:

Harmonious our relations between worker the employee and employees is a Sinequo non for industrial peace. Trade union, being the representative of all workers, may carryout continuous negotiations with the management, with a view to promote industrial peace.

(g) Negotiation on Give and Take Basis:

Trade union being a party for negotiation, protects the interest of workers through collective bargaining. Thus, the trade union works, as the negotiating machinery.

(h) Safeguarding Organisational Health:

Organisational health can be diagnosed by methods evolved for grievance  redressal and techniques adopted to reduce the rate of absenteeism and labour-turnover and to improve the employee relations. Trade unions thus contribute to the improvement, in level of production and productivity, discipline and improve quality of work life.

Trade Union – 4 Main Functions: Fraternal Functions, Militant Functions, Political Functions and Social Functions

Main functions of trade unions are as under:

1. Fraternal Functions:

Fraternal functions deal with the following:

(i) Providing opportunities for promotion and growth.

(ii) Preventing women workers from being discriminated.

(iii) Encouraging sincerity and discipline among workers.

(iv) Take-up welfare measures for improving the morale of workers.

(v) Generating self-confidence among workers.

2. Militant Functions:

Militant functions aims towards:

(i) Achieving higher wages and better working conditions.

(ii) Raising the status of workers as a part of industry.

(iii) Preventing labours against victimisation and injustice.

3. Political Functions:

Trade unions also have to influence government policy decisions in the interest of workers. Legislative support which unions require for realising some of their objectives and achievement of their long-term interests has led them to step into the region of politics.

Unions not only contribute to the formulation of policies but to see that policies are implemented. This is the reason why in several countries political process of the government and participation in it have been attracting the interest of unions rapidly.

4. Social Functions:

Social functions may be grouped under following heads:

(i) Publishing Periodicals, News Letters, or Magazines:

The main social function of trade unions is to publish periodicals, news-letters or magazines for solidifying communication with their members, making the latter aware of union policy and stand on certain principal issues and personnel matters concerning members, such as births, deaths, marriages, promotion and achievements.

(ii) Research:

Research are done to provide updated information to union negotiators at the bargaining table. Such research is to be more practical than academic, concerning problems relating day-to-day affairs of the union and, its activities and union and management relations.

(iii) To Contribute towards Education:

Education of members in all aspects of their working life including improvement of their civic life, awareness in the environment around them, enhancement of their knowledge particularly in regard to issues that concern them, their statutory and other rights and responsibilities, workers’ participation scheme and procedure for redressing their grievances. Some central union organisations also assist the Government to implement the Workers’ Education Scheme.

(iv) Performing Welfare Activities:

In various welfare activities the quality of work life is improved including organisation of mutual funds, cooperative credit societies for providing housing, cooperative stores, cultural programmes banking and medical facilities, and training for women in various crafts to provide supplement their family income.

Trade Union – 6 Major Problems

Some of the main problems faced by Indian trade unions are as under:

Problem # 1. Poor Financial Position:

The primary source of income to the unions is membership subscription. The other sources of union finances are donations, sale of periodicals, etc. Apart from it is felt that the income and expenditure of trade unions in India over the, years except in a few case reflects their poor financial position which adversely affects their functioning. Hence it is imperative on the part of a trade union to strengthen its financial solvency.

Problem # 2. Outside Political Leadership:

The main problem faced by Indian trade unions is outside leadership which is mainly drawn from political parties. As such the labour movement in India is deeply involved in the policies and politicians, hence most of the political leaders are drawn from trade unions. For example, Lok Nayak Jayprakash Narain, former president of India V.V. Giri, former governor of A.P. Khandubhau Desai, they worked as trade union leaders.

In fact, political parties invented Trade unions in India. Outside, political leadership has been playing a crucial role in Indian Trade Union Movement party due to the inability of insiders to lead their movement.

Problem # 3. Small Size of Union Membership:

Strength and financial soundness are determined by the size of union membership. Their strength and financial soundness in turn determines the activities that they undertake and their ability to protect employee’s interest.

The trade unions’ size of membership and successful functioning are interrelated and interdependent. This size of membership of trade unions in India over the years has been declining and consequently the unions face the problems of small size.

Problem # 4. Union Rivalry:

Rivalry between unions can be either of two types as under:

(i) Inter-Union Rivalry:

Inter-union rivalry means a rivalry between the groups inside the same union. The multiplicity of unions emerging from political affiliations and led by external political leaders are brought to fore the politics of many and the dynamics associated with it. Unions became competitive and the survival of the fittest led to inter-union conflicts and mutual accusations being traded freely.

(ii) Intra-Union Rivalry:

Intra-union rivalry denotes rivalry between two unions. Indian trade unionism has intra-union rivalry which hampers the production and industrial relations. The National Commission on Labour (NCL) recommended that intra-union rivalries should best be left to the central workers of the organisations concerned to settle disputes the labour courts should step in at the request of either group or on a motion by the appropriate government in cases where a central organisation is found unable to resolve the dispute.

Problem # 5. Multiple Unions:

The situation of multiple unionisms means the situation wherein two or more unions in the same plant or industry try to assert rival claims over each other and function with overlapping jurisdiction.

The multiple unions exist due to the existence of craft unions’ formations of two or more unions in the industry. Multiple unionisms affect the employee relations system both positively and negatively. However the negative impacts of multiple unions dominate the positive impacts.

Problem # 6. Victimisation:

Victimisation means dealing some person unjustly such as, pressurising an employee to leave the union or union activities, treating an employee unequally or in an obviously discriminatory manner for the sole reason of his connection with union or his particular union activity; inflicting a grossly monstrous punishment which no rational person would impose upon an employee and the like.

Other Problems:

The other factors responsible for the unsound functioning of trade unions in India are- Illiteracy, lack of integrity, uneven growth, heterogeneous nature of labour, lack of interest, category wise unions and trade union recognition.

Trade Union – Advantages and Disadvantages

Advantages of Trade Union:

The advantages of trade unions are as under:

1. Protection against exploitation – Trades unions give protection workers against being exploited. Besides they assist to uphold health and safety legislation. Trades unions can give representation to workers facing legal action.

2. Creates spirit of self-reliance and self-respect – Trade unions bring in a spirit of self-reliance and self-respect among the workers. They help in building up national character. No self-respecting worker wants gifts or alms but must be paid a fair share of the results based on the actual work produced.

3. Maintenance of wages at a uniform level – Trades unions help to maintain the wages at a uniform level in terms of the actual economic value.

4. Helps in negotiating productivity deals – Trades Unions helps to negotiate the productivity dealing. This means they help the firm to increase in best output; this enables the firm to be able to afford higher wages. Trades unions can be important for implementing new working practices which improve productivity.

5. Provides negotiation between worker and employer – The Unions are an organised body, the workers can negotiate with the employer on the basis of status and self-respect. Pressure can be exerted by them on the employer to ensure that the working conditions are healthy ones and that the hours of work are arranged conveniently. In case of a grievance, the issues can be presented through the union, it tends to prevent unnecessary conflict and disruption of work.

6. Accelerate Economic Development – To accelerate pace of economic development trade union helps in many ways as under – (i) Helps in the recruitment and selection of workers. (ii) Maintains discipline among the workforce. (iii) Enables settlement of industrial disputes in a rational manner. (iv) Workers have to adjust themselves to the new working conditions, the new rules and policies. Unions help them in such adjustment.

Disadvantages of Trade Union:

The main disadvantages of trade unions are as under:

1. Unnecessary inducement of workers – The main disadvantage of trade union for an organisation is facing of unnecessary demands of powerful trade unions. A powerful union of workers in a particular industry can, through an unreasonable demand for wages not only secures higher wages for their own industry but may also lead the workers in various organisation to make a similar demand though unreasonable.

2. Insolvency – A unit in an industry can be forced into insolvency with the purpose of increased wages.

3. High cost and low productivity – Trade unions at times encourage inefficiency, forcing the employer to employ an unnecessarily large number of employees, it is inclusive of adverse effect like increasing the costs of the undertaking and lowering its productivity and profitability.

4. Misguidance – As most of the trade unions have political leanings, the workers can be misguided for achieving the trade unionists political motives and objectives.

5. Coercing workers – The trade unions by exercising force coerce the workers to support the union’s opinion by joining strikes, etc. which mainly affect productivity.

Trade Union – Suggestions to Strengthen- Trade Union

It is of utmost importance that trade unionism is placed on a strong and sound footing. This necessitates a multi-pronged drive to get the movement rid of its various evils.

Some of the important suggestions to achieve this goal can be as follows:

Suggestion # 1. Reforming the Structure of Unions:

The structure of trade unions can be reformed in the following ways:

i. The basis on which a trade union should be organised is a matter to be determined by workers themselves in the light of their own needs and experience.

ii. The formation of craft/occupation unions should be discouraged. Craft unions operating in a unit/industry should amalgamate into an industrial unit.

iii. Where there is already a recognised industrial unit, it should set up sub­committees for important craft/occupations so that problems peculiar to the crafts receive adequate attention.

iv. The formation of centre-cum-industry and national industrial federations should be encouraged.

v. The registration of trade unions should be made compulsory for all plant unions/industrial federations, but not for the central organisations.

vi. The minimum number required for starting a new union should be raised. The National Commission on Labour suggested this limit at 10 per cent of regular employees of a plant or 100, whichever is lower.

vii. The minimum membership fee of a union should be raised and statutorily fixed.

viii. The registration of a union should be cancelled if- (a) the annual return discloses that its membership fell below the minimum prescribed for registration, (b) the union fails to submit its annual return willfully or otherwise, and (c) the annual return submitted is defective in material particulars and these defects are not rectified within the prescribed period.

Suggestion # 2. Strengthening of Internal Leadership:

Measures should be taken on several fronts to strengthen forces building up internal leadership.

For this the following steps have been recommended by the national commission on labour:

i. Intensification of workers’ education;

ii. Penalties of victimisation and similar unfair labour practices;

iii. Intensification of efforts by union organisers to train workers in union organisation;

iv. Limiting proportion of outsiders in the union executives;

v. Treating all ex- employees as insiders; and

vi. Establishing a convention that no union office-bearer will concurrently hold office in a political party.

Suggestion # 3. Eliminating Inter-Union Rivalry:

It is necessary to strengthen the trade union movement by eliminating inter-union rivalry.

For this purpose, action along the following lines has been recommended:

i. Elimination of party politics and outsiders through building up of internal leadership;

ii. Promotion of collective bargaining through recognition of sole bargaining agents;

iii. Improving the system of union recognition;

iv. Encouraging union security; and

v. Empowering Labour Courts to settle intra-union disputes if they are not settled within the organisation.