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2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - India

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2010
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - India, 9 June 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c4fec75c.html [accessed 22 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 1,200,000,000
Capital: New Delhi
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 100 – 105 – 111

Despite barriers to organising and the recognition of trade unions in law and practice, workers engaged in illegal strikes and protests to establish basic rights to bargain and union recognition. There were many incidents of police and company sponsored violence against trade union officials and workers. One worker died during protests in Gurgaon, Haryana. Thousands of workers were arrested or faced criminal charges for engaging in strikes and protests. Numerous trade union leaders were arrested and harassed for their activities.

Trade union rights in law

While basic trade union rights are guaranteed, many restrictions apply in particular in the various states. Workers may establish and join unions of their own choosing, however the Trade Unions Act does not apply in Sikkim. Consequently, workers there do not benefit from the same trade union rights, and union activities are very restricted. In all of India, a union must represent an inordinate 100 workers or 10% of the workforce in order to register, and the law limits the number of "outsiders" to sit on a union executive committee.

While the right to collective bargaining is guaranteed, there is no legal obligation on employers to recognise a union or engage in collective bargaining. Public service workers enjoy very limited rights to organise and bargain. Furthermore, no government servant may resort to any form of strike, and the government may also demand conciliation or arbitration in certain "essential" industries. As the law does not specify which these industries are, the interpretation varies from one state to another.

While strikes are permitted in the special economic zones, a 45-day strike notice period is required. In the State of Kerala, general strikes are illegal and organisers of such a strike can be held financially liable for damages caused to an employer, while in Tamul Nadu, the Essential Services Maintenance Act prescribes imprisonment of up to three years for strikes in "essential services", and defines a strike as including a refusal to work overtime.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2009

Background: The prime minister Congress-led coalition won the general elections in April and May, coming within 11 seats of winning an absolute majority in parliament. The global financial crisis has resulted in a sharp slow-down in India's growth momentum from 9% in 2007 to 6.7% in 2008. However, there are indications that the various fiscal and monetary stimulus measures announced by the previous UPA Government have begun to yield some results. However, the gender disparity on the economic front is reflected in the low female work participation rate of 25.7% as compared to 51.0% for males.

Union protection restricted to a small minority of workers: In practice, workers' rights are only legally protected for the small minority who work in the organised industrial sector. Over 90% of workers are employed in the agricultural sector and the informal economy, where there is little union representation and it is difficult to enforce legislation. The growing use of contract labour is also creating problems for organising workers.

Hostile employers, poor law enforcement: The generally hostile attitude of employers towards trade unions is clearly a deterrent to organising. Employers tend to either ignore the law making it illegal to dismiss a worker for their trade union activities or circumvent it by transferring workers to other locations to disrupt union activities or discourage union formation. Seeking justice through the judicial process is time consuming and very costly. Employers also establish and recognize "worker committees" or company dominated unions to avoid genuine trade union representation.

Death amid protests in the auto industry: About 1,300 workers from Rico Auto Industries Ltd. (Rico) in Gurgaon, Haryana, went on strike on 21 September after the company suspended 16 of their co-workers. The workers also demanded the recognition of their trade union formed by the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC). Pushpinder Singh, Secretary of the RICO employees union, said that Rico locked out the workers and suspended the 16 workers right after he filed the registration of the union at the labour department in Chandigarh. On 22 September, at least 35 workers were injured when police lathi-charged 3,500 demonstrating workers off the Delhi-Gurgaon expressway near Hero Honda Chowk, Haryana, where the workers were protesting the dismissal of their 16 co-workers.

On 20 October, over 100,000 workers from 70 auto companies at the Gurgaon-Manesar belt stopped work in support of the striking Rico workers. Police invoked Section 144 of criminal penal code that bans assembly of over five persons to counter the demonstration. The incident that sparked the mass protest occurred on 18 October when a Rico employee Ajit Kumar Yadav, 28, died during a continuing strike by workers against the company's suspension of their co-workers. Kuldeep Singh, AITUC Vice-president for Gurgaon District, said the worker was beaten to death by men carrying iron rods who were believed to be associated with Rico. Singh also said that about 40 other workers were injured. On 22 October, Rico Auto said it was ready to recognise the labour union and take back some of the suspended workers.

Protesting workers charged by police: Police cane-charged about 200 teachers who were protesting outside the Vidhan Sabha in Hazaratganj police circle on 12 February in support of their demand for pay equity. Police also arrested teacher leader and president, Lal Bihari Yadav along with four other teachers on charges of creating a public disturbance. More than 24 teachers were also injured on 13 September when Sitapur police in Uttar Pradesh launched a lathi-charge against primary school teachers who were protesting against the brutal murder of a female teacher, Aradhana Tiwari, on 10 September.

At least five persons, including a boy, were injured in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir when police lathi-charged, fired teargas shells, and used water cannons to disperse a rally of striking employees of State Road Transport Corporation on 1 September. The striking employees demanded the payment of their salaries that had not been paid for last five months. In addition, on 15 September, police lathi-charged workers of the unorganised sector affiliated with the Congress of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) who were picketing the Vikasa Soudha complex demanding an increase in minimum wages and regularisation of services of daily-wage workers. Several leaders, including leaders from the CITU and the Communist Party of India, were injured in the lathi-charge.

About 20,000 almond processing workers in Karawal Nagar, Northeast Delhi, who are members of the 'Badaam Mazdoor Union' (BMU) went on strike on 15 December to demand their statutory rights. Two days later, almond contractor goons attacked a peaceful procession of women workers, their children and union leaders with rods and sticks. Two BMU leaders and several workers were seriously injured.T Police arrested three BMU leaders. Also, the International Transport Workers' Federation claimed that shipping company Møller-Maersk's contractor SC Thakur was responsible for attacks on three members from the Transport and Dock Workers' Union on 23 October. The members say they were beaten by SC Thakur supervisors who forced their way into their home. They were also told to leave the union. All the victims had made court depositions regarding the SC Thakur's failure to pay their provident fund (social security/pension) contributions.

Workers arrested and charged with criminal offences: Mundra police officials in Gujarat State filed a charge against 5,000 workers at the Siracha power plant for demonstrating on 7 May after a worker died in an accident. On 19 June, police arrested 70 contractual teachers who protested near Matka Chowk to demand regularisation of their teaching position by the Chandigarh Union Territory Administration. The teachers were charged for allegedly violating orders imposed under Section 144, CrPC. Then, on 29 June, police arrested the Jeeva Oppantha Thozhilalar Sangham (affiliated to the All India Trade Union Congress AITUC) vice-president and two executive members who had lead a strike by a section of the contract workers at the Neyveli Lignite Corporation in Chennai, Tamil Nadu.

On 15 September, Kothrud police in Maharashtra State charged Kirloskar Cummins Employees' Union President Mahendra Balwadkar and 800 to 1,000 employees of Cummins India Limited at Dahanukar colony in Kothrud for alleged destruction of company property following a demonstration by the workers over the suspension of 11 union workers. In another event, police in Naupada, Andhra Pradesh, arrested and detained more than 12 protesting civil service workers who were members of the Municipal Labour Union for engaging in an unlawful assembly outside the municipal government headquarters on 1 December. The group was protesting against the imposition of the new biometric attendance system. Police also arrested Prashant, Pramod Kumar and Tapish Maindola of the Joint Workers' Rights Struggle Forum of the Modern laminators Ltd. and Modern Packaging Ltd. factories at Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh on 15 October, and were held in detention for seven days.

On 1 October, thousands of workers from various factories blocked the Delhi-Gurgaon expressway near Hero Honda Chowk and the service lane of the expressway near Rajiv Chowk after they learned that Gurgaon police detained AITUC General Secretary Gurudas Dasgupta and AITUC leader H.L. Sachdeva. The two AITUC leaders were on their way to address striking workers in Gurgaon industrial area. In a similar incident on 4 November, Gurudas Dasgupta was taken into 'preventive custody' by Haryana police took when he was proceeding to address a workers' rally in Gurgaon industrial area.

Anti-union tactics at Hyundai: More than 1,300 Hyundai Motor India Employees' Union (HMIEU) workers at Hyundai Motor India Limited (HMIL), located in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, went on strike on 20 April after management refused to negotiate with the union. Since July 2007, HMIEU trade union leaders, members, and supporters have suffered from dismissals, suspensions, and transfers. They have also faced the company's widespread use of threats, harassment, and intimidation for joining a union. The struggle intensified on 6 May when 900 strikers were arrested, which prompted letters of protest as well as meetings and demonstrations at Hyundai's headquarters in Korea by International Metalworkers' Federation affiliates. As of December 2009, 65 workers have been fired for their union activities and 34 more were in the process of being dismissed.

On 23 July, Hyundai signed a wage settlement with a pay rise over a three-year period. However, a section of employees of the Hyundai Motors at its Sriperumbudur plant in Tamil Nadu began a sit-down strike protesting the wage agreement because management was forcing them to agree to settlement. The company also refused to recognise any established union in its plant at Irungattukottai in Tamil Nadu. HMIL Chairman and Managing Director H S Lheem said that the company would only negotiate with the Workers' Committee set up by management, with which the company had recently entered into a wage settlement.

Leaders dismissed after union registration: On September 8, over 300 pilots of Jet Airways engaged in a sick-out over the dismissal of General Secretary D Balaraman and Joint Secretary Sam Thomas of the National Aviators' Guild (NAG). The union was established in June and registered in July, and the two leaders received letters of dismissal shortly after. Guild President Girish Kaushik said that Jet management agreed to reinstate the two dismissed pilots on the condition that NAG is dissolved. On 9 September, Jet successfully applied to the Bombay High Court for a restraining order against the pilots sick-out. The sick-out ended on 13 September.

Rubber workers' union finally vindicated: In a labour dispute that has its origins in ILO complaints filed in 2006 and 2007 by the Madras Rubber Factory United Workers Union (MRFUWU), on 9 May, hundreds of workers struck the Madras Rubber Factory (MRF) tyre company factories in Arakonam, Tamil Nadu, and in Puducherry. The workers demanded a pay increase and recognition of the MRFUWU as the legitimate representative of MRF workers. The MRF responded to the strike by locking out workers on 17 May. Then, on 20 May, police arrested and removed over 600 striking workers at the MRF plant in Arakonam, as well as those demonstrating outside the factory. Three days later, police arrested nearly 3,000 striking Arakonam MRF workers and family members and who were camping outside the labour commissioner's office. Both the MRFUWU and MRF filed a number of court cases as a result of the 9 May strike. However, on 9 September the Madras High Court issued a decision that the MRFUWU has to be recognised by the MRF management and should agree to adhere to the ILO recommendations. On 14 September, MRFUWU ended its 125 day strike and resumed work.

Child workers died in cotton fields: Taking serious note of deaths of tribal child workers in Bt cotton fields of Gujarat, the National Commission of Women and National Commission of Protection of Child rights formed a committee to investigate the issue. The Times of India first reported the death of five tribal workers in the cotton fields in its report "Life is cheap in the killing Bt cotton fields of Gujarat" dated 28 August and the death of five more Bt cotton field workers in a second report dated 6 September. Around 150,000 tribal children from Dungarpur and Udaipur districts of Rajasthan go to work in Bt cotton fields in Bansakantha and Sabarkantha village of Gujarat. Around 75% of them are below 14 years of age and the rest below 18.

Nestlé coerced unionists, obtained injunctions: On 27 April, 750 workers at Nestlé's factory in Pantnagar, Uttar Pradesh, went on strike demanding the reinstatement of unfairly dismissed workers, permanent jobs for over 400 "trainees" illegally denied job security, and an end to management interference in the registration of their trade union, the Nestlé Mazdoor Sangh (Nestle Workers Union – NWU). The union began the strike when management attempted to force four workers to "voluntarily" resign as part of an effort to prevent union organising. Three workers refused and were dismissed. After an agreement was made between the union and management on 1 May, the next day the company suspended four NWU leaders, including the union president. Workers attempted to resume their strike but police prevented them from protesting at the factory. In March, 55 workers officially formed the NWU when they submitted an application for registration with the local authorities. In response, Nestlé threatened 25 workers and forced them to sign a false statement claiming that they joined the union under "coercion".

In January, Nestlé India also successfully filed injunctions in four courts in three states that banned all union meetings, gatherings, and rallies within 200 metres of its factories in Moga, Punjab State, Samalkha, Haryana State, and Ponda Goa and Bicholim in Goa State. In defiance of the injunction, on 16 April The Federation of All India Nestlé Employees, who represent the workers in these factories, launched protest actions and demanded that management immediately bargain on wages.

Migrant workers detained: On 26 September, the Bihar State Chief Minister ordered a high-level probe into the case involving the abduction and detention of migrant workers from Bihar by the owners of a textile factory in Coimbatore. As reported, 22 workers from Bihar were illegally detained in a small facility where they were denied food and drinking water.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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