Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 August 2014, 14:37 GMT

2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - India

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 8 June 2011
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - India, 8 June 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4ea66207c.html [accessed 20 August 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

There were many incidents of police and company-sponsored violence against trade union officials and workers. Numerous trade union leaders were arrested and harassed for their activities. Companies used lockouts against protesting employees. Two workers were killed when police opened fire on protesting workers at Norwera Nuddy Tea Estate in West Bengal. Thousands of workers were arrested or faced criminal charges for engaging in illegal strikes and protests to establish basic rights to bargain and have union recognition. Government employees went on strike for outstanding wages and benefits.

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, in Sikkim registration of a trade union is subject to a police inquiry and prior permission from the state government. The public also has an opportunity to object to the creation of a union and prevent its registration. 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 Kerala, general strikes are illegal and organisers of such a strike can be held financially liable for damages caused to an employer, while in Tamil Nadu, the Essential Services Maintenance Act prescribes imprisonment of up to three years and a fine of INR 5,000 for participation in strikes in "essential services".

TRADE UNION RIGHTS IN PRACTICE AND VIOLATIONS IN 2010

Background: Despite barriers to organising and the recognition of trade unions in law and practice, two general strikes during the year challenged the policies of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) party. Over 90% of workers are employed in the agricultural sector and the informal economy where there is little union representation and where it is difficult to enforce legislation. The growing use of contract labour is also creating problems for organising workers. In June a court in Bhopal sentenced seven employees of Union Carbide to jail for neglect over the gas plant leak in 1984 that killed thousands in the world's worst industrial accident.

Nestlé signs collective agreements: In the closing weeks of 2009, the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations (IUF)-affiliated Federation of All India Nestlé Employees, representing more than 1,200 workers at Nestlé India's factories in Moga, Punjab, and at Ponda and Bicholim, Goa, signed their first collective bargaining agreements after a year-long struggle. At the Nestlé Pantnagar factory in Uttar Pradesh, the Nestle Mazdoor Sangh (Nestle Workers Union) signed a first collective agreement on 5 January. As part of the final settlement, management withdrew the suspension of a founding member of the union who has now returned to work.

Child labour widespread: NGOs estimate that 70,000 children from Nepal, Bangladesh, Assam, Bihar and Jharkhand are working in the private mines of Meghalaya. There is no official survey, but the government does not contradict the figures. As Indian officials struggled to deal with mounting international criticism over the safety and security of Commonwealth Game athletes, on 24 September new evidence emerged that showed children as young as seven were being used in the construction of game venues. In an interview with CNN, Harvard fellow and trafficking expert Siddharth Kara said that child labour was a widespread and well-known issue in New Delhi. Kara documented children aged seven, eight, nine and ten years old working alongside their families to get the construction completed, describing the conditions these children were forced to work in as "sub-human". Kara said that in just a few days she reliably documented 32 cases of forced labour and 14 cases of child labour all for construction related to the Commonwealth Games.

Suicides in the garment industry: In the two years ending in September 2010, 910 garment workers, including members of their family, in Tirupur, Tamil Nadu, committed suicide. Garment factories in Tirupur produce about 90% of all India's cotton knitwear exports. Ignoring labour laws on overtime pay, many companies pay garment workers at the normal rate of pay for 12 and 16-hour shifts. The garment workers who pack finished goods receive only Rs.106 (USD2.35) per shift.

Protesters arrested during general strikes: There were two general strikes in India during 2010 called to protest price increases for essential commodities. The first was on 5 March and the second was on 7 September. On 5 March, protests were held in 200 centres. The strike was called by nine union federations that included the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), the Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS) and the All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU). According to media reports, thousands of protesters were arrested throughout India. In New Delhi, INTUC President Sanjeeva Reddy, along with CITU President MK Pandhe, AITUC General Secretary Gurudas Dasgupta and HMS General Secretary U Purohit, were taken into custody.

On 7 September, around 100 million workers across India went on strike against the policies of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the centre and state governments. The strike was called by the Coordination Committee of Central Trade Unions (CTUs) consisting of eight central trade unions including the INTUC, the AITUC, the CITU, the HMS, the All India United Trade Union Centre (AIUTUC), the Trade Union Coordinating Committee (TUCC), AICCTU and the All India United Trade Union Congress (UTUC) and the All India Bank Employees Association (AIBEA). International Metalworkers' Federation affiliates – the Indian National Metalworkers' Federation (INMF) and the Steel, Metal & Engineering Workers' Federation of India (SMEFI) – also participated. Besides protesting the rise in prices of essential commodities, other demands made by the CTUs included concrete measures to protect recession-stricken sectors by offering a stimulus package, strict enforcement of labour laws and punishment to those violating them, creation of a national fund for the unorganised workers to provide for social security, and dropping the proposal to disinvest shares in PSUs. In Karur, 287 persons, including 84 women, were arrested when they attempted to picket Central government offices. Those arrested included CITU District Secretary G. Jeevanandam and trade union leaders Ambalavanan and Ramachandran. All those arrested were later released the same day.

Air India – unions decertified, leaders suspended and dismissed over safety issue: On 25 May, about 25,000 Air India (AI) workers represented by All India Air Engineers Association (AIAEA) and the Air Corporations Employees Union (ACEU) went on strike after the company issued a gag order concerning a 22 May air crash in Mangalore, Karnataka. The AI strike came to an end on 27 May after the Delhi High Court ruled that the strike was illegal. AI then dismissed 58 employees, including JB Kadian, ACEU General Secretary, and suspended 32 employees including 15 engineers. AI also withdrew recognition from the ACEU and the AIAEA and sealed the offices of both unions located near Mumbai airport. On 28 June, the Delhi High Court directed AI to de-seal the union offices. On 31 October, it was reported that AI had reinstated 25 of the 32 workers suspended for their participation in the May strike. Of these, 24 are engineers who are members of the AIAEA while one employee is from the ACEU. On 11 December, it was reported that AI had reinstated six of the employees it dismissed after they went on strike in May. The other dismissed employees will be taken back after they send AI management letters expressing regret for their action.

Hyundai union strikes to reinstate workers: Members of the Hyundai Motor India Employees Union (HMIEU) went on strike on 6 June at the Hyundai Motor's plant in Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu, to demand the reinstatement of 67 workers dismissed after a strike in July 2009. After the July 2009 strike, the union and the company signed an agreement to reinstate 87 dismissed employees after a case-by-case review. The company has since reinstated 20 of these employees. The union demands the reinstatement of the remaining 67 employees. HMIEU leader Edison Perira said the union has demanded the reinstatement of the 67 workers and also wants the company to recognise the union. He contended that the company management had not recognised the union, a registered body that was formed in 2007. On 8 June, police arrested over two hundred striking workers. The strike ended on 9 June when the union and the company agreed to establish a six-member review committee with two representatives from the union, company management and the labour commissioner's office to consider the reinstatement of 35 dismissed employees on a case-by-case basis. The remaining 32 workers will have to seek legal remedies in court.

Violence against workers: On 25 August, at Viva Global (VG), a garment manufacturer, thugs attacked 60 VG workers while they were on their way to work. Sixteen women were severely beaten, and Anwar Ansari, a Garment and Allied Workers Union (GAWU) leader, was kidnapped and beaten before being dropped near his home over 12 hours later. He was treated for multiple injuries. One of the thugs involved in the attack was identified as a labour contractor used by VG. The attack follows an ongoing workers' campaign to improve working conditions at the factory. On 23 August, VG management attempted to prevent workers from entering the factory and told union leaders and workers that they would be beaten or shot if they continued their campaign. In a separate incident on 22 January, police cane-charged protesting members of the Unemployed Elementary Teachers Training (ETT) Union in Kapurthala, Punjab. Two union members were injured in the attack.

State civil servant unions struggle to implement Sixth Pay Commission: On 22 January, in Uttar Pradesh, about 1,600,000 Uttar Pradesh State employees who are members of the State Employees Union, UP Karmachari-Shishak Mahasangh, went on strike to protest a police cane-charge on union members. Union members demonstrated in Lucknow the day before over the State's failure to implement the provisions of the Sixth Pay Commission. Around a dozen union leaders were taken into custody after the demonstration. The State government threatened to invoke Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) against them if they continued their strike.

In Jammu and Kashmir, the Employees Joint Action Committee (JKEJAC) and Joint Consultative Committee (JCC) members started a series of strikes in January and February to demand the immediate implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations. Police used heavy force on striking union members and detained many of them. On 13 April, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court invoked the ESMA and instructed the state government to intensify its efforts to break the strike. Strikes were eventually ended, but on 29 December, JKEJAC and JCC leaders headed by Khursheed Alam reminded Chief Minister Omar Abdullah of his promise regarding issuance of an order pertaining to release of arrears of the Sixth Pay Commission by 31 July. Other government employee strikes over Sixth Pay Commission issues took place in Manipur, Gujarat, Nagaland, Bihar and Jharkhand.

On 14 August 2008, the Union Cabinet approved the implementation of the recommendations of the Sixth Central Pay Commission with revised pay scales that were to be effective on 1 January 2006 and revised rates of allowances on 1 September 2008. The Cabinet decided that arrears would be paid in cash in two instalments: the first instalment of 40% during 2008-09 and the remaining 60% in 2009-10. Since then, state civil servant unions in many parts of India have struggled to enforce the Cabinet's mandate.

Norwera Nuddy Tea Estate – protest, harassment and death: In a dispute that resulted in a lockout on 14 September 2009, the Norwera Nuddy Tea Estate in West Bengal reopened on 12 December 2009. However, eight workers who were involved in an August 2009 demonstration against the company to protest the abusive treatment of a fellow worker remain suspended. In addition, estate workers have not received any wages or rations owed to them from the period of the lockout. On 15 February, the estate's General Manager told two members of the Nowera Nuddy Workers' Action Committee that he would declare another lockout if they continued their protest activities on behalf of the suspended workers. In late April, local police issued arrest warrants for Arti Oraon and 11 other workers, including the suspended workers.

On 28 May, a 25-year-old pesticide-sprayer Gopal Tanti collapsed and died while working on the plantation. Mr Tanti was denied medical treatment and left to die in the field. Up to 500 workers protested his death and the lack of safety and health measures at the plantation. Management called the police, who opened fire on the protesters. Two men, Deep Sona and Ranjit Paharia, were killed and 15 others were injured. On 6 July, the Progressive Tea Workers' Union, organised under the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad, threatened to shut down the four gardens of Tata Tea if the eight suspended workers of Nowera Nuddy Tea Estate were not reinstated in the next few days. Fifty union members demonstrated at the Deputy Labour Commissioner's (DLC) office in Jalpaiguri and demanded immediate discussions.

Employers attempt to bust unions: Various incidents of union busting were reported during the year. On 8 September at its plant in Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu, Foxconn, a multinational subsidiary of Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd, refused to recognise and bargain with the Foxconn India Thozhilalar Sangam (FITS) Union affiliated with the Centre of India Trade Unions (CITU). In response, about 1,500 FITS members went on strike on 22 September but returned to work the same day after Foxconn management promised to discuss the dispute in the presence of District Labour Commissioner on 27 September. However, on 23 September Foxconn informed the workers that it had already entered into an agreement with the Foxconn India Thozhilalar Munnetra Sangam (FITMS) union and imposed eight-day suspensions on workers who participated in the strike. FITS members resumed their strike on 24 September. The company called the police, who arrested 1,500 workers, and Foxconn suspended 23 union activists. Police released the workers on the same day. As the strike continued, police arrested 250 striking workers on 7 October and released them later in the day. On 10 October, police arrested and imprisoned an estimated 320 strikers along with CITU State Secretary A. Soundararajan and Kanchipuram District Secretary and FITS President E. Muthukumar. On 13 October, 307 arrested strikers were granted bail but the 12 union leaders remained in prison, including Soundararajan and Muthukumar. On 1 November, the 12 union leaders were finally released. On 17 November, CITU leaders called an end to the strike.

At BYD Electronic (International) Company Limited (BYD), BYD Electronics workers held a meeting on 9 October to form a union with the help of CITU. In response, BYD management announced plans to lay off around 100 workers. On 21 October, workers conducted a one-day strike that forced management into talks at the Assistant Commissioner of Labour's office. Talks broke down on 27 October when BYD management insisted that they would not discuss contract workers' issues. On 1 November, BYD locked out its workforce, terminated 2,500 contract workers, fired 37 permanent workers, and suspended another two. In addition, the company ordered 437 other workers to sign a letter of apology to keep their jobs. The lockout was imposed after 3,000 workers held a three-day strike on 28-30 October. BYD workers returned to work on 22 November.

In Jaipur, Rajasthan, officials at the SMS Medical College threatened to dismiss 2,000 striking contract workers on 31 January. Principal Secretary, Health Education, CM said that the workers' demands were unjust and that the College has already issued new tenders for contract workers. The International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations (IUF)-affiliated Schreiber Dynamix Dairies Employees Union, which represents 350 members at the Schreiber Dynamix Dairy (SDD) in Baramati, Maharashtra, launched a campaign earlier this year to address discrimination faced by contract workers. Contract workers are not covered by the collective agreement because of their employment status. Shortly after the union posted a notice calling for a general membership meeting on 14 April to discuss the union's demand to make contract workers permanent, police entered the factory and warned the union's President not to hold the meeting. The union proceeded with the meeting, and union members declared their support for contract workers' right to permanent employment. The following day, the workers held a mass rally to support the demand for contract workers. On 17 April, SDD prohibited the current contract workers from entering the plant and immediately replaced them with 300 new contract workers.

Over 190 nurses from the UN Mehta Institute of Cardiology and Research Centre at the Civil Hospital in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, were detained by police on 10 August for protesting outside the hospital over the dismissal of three union leaders. When the nurses formed a union on 6 August, management suspended three union leaders. Nurses want the suspensions lifted and their union recognised.

In New Shakti Nagar, Ludhiana, Punjab, more than 500 textile factory workers who are members of the Karkhana Mazdoor Union (KMU) protested on 26 August outside the Labour Commissioner's office. The workers, who work at more than 20 textile factories in New Shakti Nagar, went on strike on 24 August for higher wages. However, on 25 August factory owners told the workers that they had been dismissed from their jobs. Lakhwinder Singh, a union leader, said that workers were told that they have to stop their union activities if they wanted their jobs back. On 31 August, the strikes ended after factory owners entered into a written agreement with the union.

On 11 August, more than 800 striking non-teaching employees of Patna University and Lalit Narayan Mithila University of Darbhanga were suspended for violating a 10 August return-to-work order issued by the state Human Resources Department. More than 2,000 striking non-teaching staff of different universities in the state have been suspended for their failure to obey return-to-work orders. On 12 August, the strike launched by the Bihar State University and College Employees' Federation in support of its demands entered its 44th day.

Union leaders and workers arrested: Labour activists faced arrest and detention in the pursuit of their activities throughout the year. Police arrested many hundreds of protesting workers and union leaders. Some incidents included the following, but the list is not exhaustive: Punjab police arrested more than 100 teachers across the state on 11 February including Elementary Teachers Training Union (Punjab) (ETT) Jalandhar unit President Beant Singh. The arrests came after the ETT announced plans for a 12 February protest in Lambi. Striking weavers, including 118 women, were arrested after they staged a demonstration in support of a wage increase at Sellur City, Tamil Nadu, on 15 March. Marumalarchi Labour Front State Secretary Mahaboob John led the protest. All those arrested were released the same day.

Police detained nearly 500 protesting members of the Indian Link Workers' Union of Ahmedabad on 1 May in Ahmedabad, Gurjarat. Most of those arrested were women. Union leaders arrested included Akash Shah, Vinod Pilvaikar, Pallavi Solanki, Ramila Rawal, and Bhanu Makwana. The protesters were later freed. On 11 June, Amargarh police in Uttar Pradesh arrested 25 Didar Steel workers on charges of criminal trespass when the workers protested at the mill over the company's failure to pay them their full wages. At Ramanathapuram, Tamil Nadu, police arrested 73 contract workers of the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board on 20 June when they protested to demand regularisation of their jobs.

In Chennai, nearly 2,000 workers, most of them women, were taken into custody. In Chennai, Tamil Nadu, leaders and members of the Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation Employees (TASMAC) Liquor Shop Workers Union, AITUC and ITUC affiliates, were arrested on 11 August when they attempted to demonstrate in front of the District Collectorate. Forty people were remanded to judicial custody. Those arrested included TASMAC State Secretary (CITU) Mr. Soundarapandian, TASMAC Vice-President S. Jayaprakasan, and Anna Thozhirsanga Peravai Secretary R. Chinnasamy.

Protesting workers locked-out: Various companies used lockouts against protesting workers during the year. (The following list is not exhaustive.) Lockouts occurred at the Bosch plant in Naganathapura, Karnataka, in response to a strike by MICO Karmikara Sangha-Naganathapura (MKS-N) union workers. Company officials locked out workers on 8 March. On 13 March, the lockout ended after an understanding was reached between the management and the union. Apache Footwear India Private Ltd (Apache) locked out around 6,000 employees at its factory on 9 March after workers walked off the job and demonstrated outside the factory. Apache management informed the employees that they were suspended without pay until the factory reopened on 17 March. Apache workers had walked off the job earlier in the year to demand better wages and work conditions. At that time, management responded with threats of "serious consequences" against workers if there were future industrial actions.

Similarly, on 11 June, Apollo Tyres announced a lockout at one of its factory in Perambra, Thrissur, Kerala. The company cited labour unrest in initiating the lockout. The lockout ended on 21 August after the company and unions settled on new work agreement. The three-year agreement was supposed to have been signed in November 2009. Rajasthan Explosives and Chemicals Limited (RECL) in Dholpur, Rajasthan locked out its union employees on 3 October. Union leader Ramesh Chandra said the lockout was illegal. After meeting with company, the lockout ended on 4 October. And finally, over 400 workers at three pharmaceutical production plants of Orchid, Qualpro and Zephyr Systems (Rowtech) in Verna, Goa, were locked out on 27 December after demanding a wage increase and an end to the recruitment of contract workers. The pharmaceutical workers are members of the Orchid, Qualpro and Zephyr, Verna employees union.

Harassment of union members: The Int Bhattha Mazdoor Union, which represents brick kiln workers in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, went on indefinite strike on 15 January. Union leader Sudhir Katiyar said that kiln owners tried to assault a worker at Dhedhal village near Bavla, and similar incidents were reported in Chhatiyada and in Gandhinagar. Union Secretary Dinesh Parmar said that employers had filed false complaints against workers with police. In another incident, on 8 August, the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation Staff and Workers' Federation alleged that senior officials of the North East Karnataka Road Transport Corporation (NEKRTC) were harassing its union leaders. Federation Vice-President, Shoukat Ali Alur said that NEKRTC officials were transferring union leaders in reprisal for speaking out against the harassment.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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