Causes of Industrial Disputes

The causes of industrial disputes are many and varied. The major ones related to wages, union rivalry, political interference, unfair labour practices, multiplicity of labour laws, economic slowdown and others.

Wage Demands

By far, the most important cause for disputes is related to wages. The demand for wages has never been fully met because of inflation and high cost of living. High inflation results in increased cost of living resulting in never-ending demands from unions.

Management and Unions have wage agreement generally valid for three years. Each new agreement is preceded by a prolonged battle between managements and unions, often resulting in strikes and lockouts. Agreement reached in one company will inspire unions in other plants in the locality, and make them pitch tents demanding similar rise in wages.
Closely related to wages are bonus, incentives, and other allowances. Of all these, wages have been a major issue of contention that leads to disputes.

Union Rivalry

Multiplicity of unions leads to inter-union rivalries. If one union agrees to a wage settlement, another union will oppose it. The consequence is never-ending disputes, as has been happening at the Singareni Collieries. The company had 445 strikes in 1990-91 resulting in a loss of production of 3.12 million tonnes and 34.19 lakh man-days. The reason is mainly union rivalry. One union or the other is always on strike and often the demands of rival unions on an issue are conflicting.

Multiplicity of unions poses peculiar problems to managers. One such problem relates to authenticity of memberships. Unions put up respective numbers of members in such a way that when added together the figure exceeds the total number of workers in the organisation. Another problem relates to the selection of a bargaining agent in the process of collective bargaining. Union rivalry leads to large-scale violence.

Political Interference

Major trade unions are affiliated to political parties. Political affiliation is not peculiar to our country alone. Even a cursory assessment of labour movements around the world would show that trade unions are, by their very nature, political, and that politicisation of labour is the rule rather than the exception.

What happens when unions get politicised? In the first place, distant ideological issues divide and fragment unions on party lines. When unions multiply, inter-union rivalry erupts and the consequences are too obvious. Second, inspired by their political ideologies, certain unions refuse to sign an agreement even if it is favourable to all the workers and thus these perpetual dissenters manage to keep the issue alive.

Third, every political party somehow engineers strikes to demonstrate its political strength. Invariably, the political party which is in power favours a union which is affiliated to it, and the result is end less disputes.

Unfair Labour Practices

Majority of disputes are management inspired. The following points 2 justify the assertion:

1. The management is generally not willing to talk over any disputes with the employees or the representatives, or refer it to ‘arbitration’ even when trade unions want it so, and this enrages the workers.

2. A management’s unwillingness to recognise a particular trade union and the dilatory tactics to which it resorts while verifying the representative character of any trade union have been a source of industrial strife.

Multiplicity of Labour Laws

Labour laws in our country, as in several other countries, have been enacted to create conditions for the protection of labour from unfair employment practices and to provide a legal framework within which Industrial Relations is to be regulated.

Labour legislation is regarded as the most dynamic institution. From a simple restraint on child labour in 1881, labour legislation in our country has become an important agency of the State for the regulation of working and living conditions of workers, as indicated by the rising number and variety of labour acts. This rapid development of labour legislation is an integral part of the modern social organisation.

There are more than 155 Acts, both Central and State, earning our country the dubious distinction of being one of the few highly labour legislated countries in the world. What has been the outcome of all these? Surely, the result has been endless confusion, industrial strife, loss of production and exploitation of labour by the management and of the management by the labour.

What is strange is that in developed countries of the Western world, labour legislation followed the emergence of industrialisation and in response to a demand for economic and social betterment of the workers. We neither experienced an industrial revolution. in the true sense of the tenn, leading to the gradual emergence of a welfare state. nor a socialist revolution which binds the public sector with a sense of performance.

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