POWERING UP TRADE UNIONS: HOW THE INTERNET IS REVOLUTIONIZING LABOUR ORGANIZATIONS
Author: Tavishi Singh, IV year of B.B.A.,LL.B.(Hons.) from Symbiosis Law School, Pune
A trade union[i]is an association framed by laborers to secure their interests and improve their functioning conditions, along with other objectives. It is a constant relationship of workers to keep up and improving working conditions.
Article 19(1)(c) of the Constitution of India, 1950 (Constitution) envisages the fundamental right to ‘freedom of speech and expression’ and guarantees the right ‘to form associations or unions’ including unions.
With the advent of digital technologies, trade unions have found that they can overcome some of the traditional barriers to unionization and reach out to workers who might otherwise be difficult to organize. Moreover, the internet has provided trade unions with low-cost tools for organizing and mobilizing workers, especially those in small workplaces and in industries that have traditionally been difficult to organize. By using online platforms for petitions, online campaigns, and fundraising, trade unions can harness the power of the internet to build a groundswell of support for their campaigns.
[A] Judicial Evolution of trade unions
i) The case of All India Bank Employees’ Association v. N.I. Tribunal[i] laid down the rights of the members of the trade unions that are encompassed within the fundamental right to freedom of expression and speech, i.e., Article 19(1)(c)59:
The right of the members of the union to meet,
The right of the members to move from place to place,
The right to discuss their problems and propagate their views, and
The right of the members to hold property, However, the case held that Article 19(1) (c) does not account for a right pertaining to the achievement of the all the objectives for which the trade union was formed.
ii) Another case which is of much importance is the case of B. Srinivasa Reddy v. Karnataka Urban Water Supply & Drainage Board Employees’ Association[ii] wherein it has been held that an unregistered trade union or a trade union whose registration has been cancelled has no rights either under the TU Act or the IDA. This case highlights the importance with respect to registration of trade unions.
iii) In MRF United Workers Union rep. by its General Secretary v. Respondent: Government of Tamil Nadu rep. by its Secretary, Labour and Employment Department and Ors[iii]., the court has highlighted the validity of procedure for recognition of a trade union.
[B] Decline in Trade Union Memberships over the years: Challenges posed
[B.1] Structural transformation
The unionization rate has fallen because converting non-union jobs to union jobs has become increasingly difficult.
The last couple of decades have seen most manufacturing firms circumventing the labour laws that protect labour rights by employing, and outsourcing to, contract labour.
Contract labour cannot be unionized because of the very uncertain nature of labour contracts.
[B.2] Strikes almost impossible
The Industrial Relations Code 2020 proposes that no person employed in an industrial establishment shall go on strike without a 60-day notice.
Earlier, workers could go on strike by giving between two weeks and six weeks of notice.
Effects of Good Labor Relations on the Growth of Government Business
Better administration of labour relations in an industry is a sine qua non for the accomplishment of the labour concern. It brings about labour harmony which is fundamental for the nations, especially for India, where the economy is being outfitted in an arranged manner to enhance a ton of the majority.[iv] Following are the results of the good labour relations and its impact on the growth of economy:
[A] Increased Production
Healthy cordial relationship between the work force and the employer and management and amongst the workers within the workplace improves the workers’ productivity and efficiency. This leads to increase in production in the organization.[v]
[B] Reduction in Labor Disputes
Good labour relation helps in reducing the labour disputes. Good Labour relationship removes dissatisfaction among the workers.[vi] Satisfied workers are less inclined towards entering into conflict with the managementon issues like low wages, long work hours, and unhealthy work environment. Thus, labour unrest can be avoided.[vii]
[C] Uninterrupted Production
The most important benefit of labour relations is that it ensures uninterrupted production. Reduced labour dispute, labour unrest, strike, lock outs can be avoided through good labour relation. This ensures smooth running of the organization and continuous production.
[D] Effective Utilization of Resources
Good labour relation helps in effective utilization of man, money and material. Improved employee morale,labour peace, recognition of employee’s interest and reconciliation of employer’s and employee objectives and interest increased production with minimum wastage of resources.[viii]
Trade union and the internet: a possible aid
We cannot dispute the internet's massive and rising impact on our social life. The internet has altered many aspects of our lives, including how we purchase and sell items, study and teach, and be entertained and informed.
[A] Organizing workers through the use of the internet
Organizing is a challenging task for trade unions, but the internet has provided new opportunities for them to reach out to unorganized workers. Interestingly, those who are least likely to be union members, such as young people, technical workers, professionals, and service workers, are also the most accessible through new technologies like computers and mobile devices. The internet allows unions to reach out to small groups of workers in companies where union recognition is not yet established, providing cost-effective means of communication through email, e-newsletters, and websites.
One significant impact of the internet on Indian trade unions has been the rise of online organizing. Unions are now using social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp to connect with workers and share information about labour rights and collective bargaining. This has helped to create a sense of solidarity among workers, particularly those in the informal sector, who were previously difficult to organize.
[B] Internal and external communication
The internet is a cost-effective tool for communication, with the ability to send emails to all members of an organization or individuals at no additional cost. Prior to the internet, trade unions found it challenging and expensive to provide information to workers outside the organized sector and small workplaces. With the internet, unions can reach workers in any location, informing them about workplace conditions, rights, and advising them on how to deal with workplace problems. In today's digital world, it is essential for unions to take advantage of this new way of reaching workers.
A union's website acts as a prominent public shop-window for the organization, allowing them to explain the benefits of union membership to potential members. Internal communication can also be improved through e-mails and intranets, allowing union officials and staff to stay connected and exchange information more easily.
[C] Amenities to members
The internet presents an opportunity for trade unions to improve their services to members. The UK's UNISON and Trades Union Congress (TUC) are prime examples of unions providing exemplary services to their members. UNISON-Direct[i], which was established by UNISON in 1998, allows members with workplace problems to contact a help line 24/7 and receive information and advice from trained personnel who have access to over 300 computerized scripts to guide them in addressing the problems.
Another impact of the internet on Indian trade unions is the increased availability of information. Workers can now access information about labour laws, court rulings, and union activities through various online platforms. This has helped to empower workers and given them the knowledge they need to demand better working conditions and wages.
It ought to be noticed that it is true that trade unions and labor relations are not the lone vehicle for boosting economy through industrial sector but they are the major one. The internet has had a significant impact on trade unions, both in terms of the opportunities it presents and the challenges it poses.
The internet has also created new challenges for trade unions. For example, the rise of the gig economy and online platforms has made it more difficult for trade unions to organize and represent workers in these sectors. In many cases, these workers are classified as independent contractors and are not covered by traditional labour laws, which makes it more difficult for trade unions to negotiate on their behalf.
Overall, the internet has both positive and negative implications for trade unions, and it will be important for trade unions to adapt to these changes in order to remain relevant and effective in the digital age.
[i]https://www.unison.org.uk/get-help/online-enquiries/ [i]https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1781810/ [ii]https://indiankanoon.org/doc/758170/ [iii]https://indiankanoon.org/doc/997935/ [iv] Workmen of M/S Firestone Tyre and Rubber Co. India v. Management, AIR 1973 SC 1227 [v]Supra at 4 [vi]Misra, ShankhaShuvra, and Piyali Ghosh, Managerial competencies for trade union officials in India: The key to union effectiveness, IIMB Management Review (2022). [vii] Ibid. [viii]Schmidt, Werner, Austerity and public sector trade union power: Before and after the crisis, European Journal of Industrial Relations 25.2 (2019): 129-145. [i] Section 2(zl) of the Industrial Relations Code, 2020: “Trade Union means any combination, whether temporary or permanent, formed primarily for the purpose of regulating the relations between workmen and employers or between workmen and workmen, or between employers and employers, or for imposing restrictive conditions on the conduct of any trade or business, and includes any federation of two or more Trade Unions.”