Unions in India have been preoccupied with protecting the interests of the workers. The government worked in tandem with the unions in setting up labour standards. In the process unions became strong and began asserting themselves not by contributing to the economic performance but by organising a large number of strikes at the national and the enterprise levels. The globalisation process, since 1991, has adversely affected labour. The issue of labour law has emerged as one of the major focus area on the corporate agenda. Particularly after 1990, representatives of both national and international capital, pro-liberalization economists, and the national and global media in chorus started decrying existing labour legislation, as if all the problems on the earth has been created by these ‘rigid labour laws’.

The agenda was for total reform, but the major focus targeted crucial sections of the labour laws which provides service security or ensured workers’ rights in the workplace, or which put an obligation on the management to ensure the well being of labour or provided any power to labour for collective bargaining, or provided for routine inspections to ensure the implementation of labour laws. There has been jobless growth for many years. At the enterprise level, management’s quest for a lean and mean organization has led to a reduction in workforce, replacement of permanent workers with casual workers or contract workers. The employer is also merrily into union bashing or resisting the formation of unions and taking a tough posture in collective bargain. Unions are, therefore, up in arms against the inaction of the government and unfair practices of the management. However, they are operating from a weaker platform and the management in tandem with the government in asserting itself.


At the beginning of the last century, a few groups were formed amongst workers in India so as to improve their bargaining power with respect to their service conditions and wages. These were akin to trade unions of the present day India. The earliest known of such unions were the Printers’ Union formed in Calcutta in 1905 and the Bombay Postal Union formed in 1907. The trade union movement in India began after the end of First World War due to the need for coordination of activities of individual unions. The movement, over a period of time, systematically spread to almost all industrial centers and became an integral part of the industrial process in India. Various trade unions were formed during such period, such as the Madras Labour Union in 1918, the All India Trade Union Congress in 1920, the Bengal Trade Union Federation in 1922 and the All India Railwaymen’s Federation in 1922. In March 1921, Shri N.M. Joshi, the then General Secretary of the AITUC, recommended through a resolution that the Government should introduce legislation for the registration and protection of trade unions in India. Eventually, the Trade Unions Act, 1926 was enacted for the purpose of ensuring governance and protection of trade unions. Today, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, the Indian National Trade Union Congress and the AITUC are considered to be the largest trade unions in India. Also, the country’s manufacturing sector in particular, is heavily unionized.

Definition: Trade Union is defined under trade unions act, 1926 under section 2(h) which 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: any agreement between partners as to their own business; any agreement between an employer and those employed by him as to such employment; any agreement in consideration of the sale of the good-will of a business or of instruction in any profession, trade or handicraft.

Need of Recognition of Trade Union

Collective bargaining is an important aspect of employer employee relation. The right of collective bargaining is not provided for all trade unions that exists but is provided for those trade unions which are recognized Registration of trade union is one thing and the recognition of trade union as a sole bargaining agent for the purpose of collective bargaining is another thing. Number of industrial strikes broke out on the question of recognition of union.In practice, management allows the recognized Trade Union only for negotiations and collective bargaining. As such, recognition of trade union serves as backbone of collective bargaining. It has been debated time and again whether a trade union should be recognized or not. This is because there is so far no enforced central legislation on this subject, i.e., recognition of trade union. In Kalindi and Others v. Tata Locomotive and Engineering Co. Ltd, the Supreme Court held that there is no right to representation as such unless the company, by its standing orders, recognizes such right.

Method of recognizing trade union

Certain criteria has to be complied with for a trade union to be recognised . ministry of labour and employment prepared their views based on a tripartite system , based on these views drafts bills were prepared elucidating the criteria for union registration and recognition, they include 100 or 10% of the workers, whichever is east to be a union instead of any seven workers, craft, category and caste based unions are not be registered or recognized, the law will provide for recognition and unrecognized union will not have any rights.But these drafts never took the form of an act though in three occasions it came up before the government but the day fell before the bill could be discussed. Soon after independence there were many states with provisions of recognition of trade union and many de facto recognition. Recognition of trade unions can be broadly classified as voluntary and statutory recognition:

Recognition by management: It is a type of voluntary recognition. For a trade union to be successful it should play an effective role in collective bargaining, collective bargaining in turn depends upon the willingness of the employer to recognize the union. A union may be strong and stable unless it is recognized by the employer it will hardly have any impact.

Election by Secret Ballot: Under which system, all eligible workers of an establishment may vote for their chosen union, elections to be conducted by a neutral agent, generally the Registrar of Unions, in a manner very similar to the conduct of general elections. Once held, the results of the elections would remain valid for a minimum period, usually two years.


In India, the right to form and join a trade union, and engage in collective bargaining is provided for under national and state-specific legislations. Time and again, the courts have upheld the right of workers to form or join a trade union in India.

Constitution of India, 1950: Article 19(1)(c) of the Constitution of India, 1950 which envisages fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression also guarantees the country’s citizens the right “to form associations or unions” including trade unions. The SC has held that the right guaranteed in Article 19(1) (c) also includes the right to join an association or union. This right carries with it the right of the State to impose reasonable restrictions. The various freedoms that are recognized under the fundamental right, Article 19(1)(c), are: i) The right of the members of the union to meet, ii) The right of the members to move from place to place, iii) The right to discuss their problems and propagate their views, iv) The right of the members to hold property.

Trade Union Act, 1926: The Trade Unions Act, 1926 provides for formation and registration of trade unions and in certain respects to define the law relating to registered trade unions. All workmen have the right to form a union or refuse to be a member of any union. However, not all workers’ organizations are considered trade unions.

Recognition and Registration: Recognition is the process through which the employer accepts a particular trade union as having a representative character and hence, will be willing to engage in discussions with the union with respect to the interests of the workers. On the other hand, registration of a trade union carries certain inherent benefits with it. A registered trade union is deemed to be a body corporate, giving it the status of a legal entity that may, inter alia, acquire and hold property, enter into contracts, and sue others. A registered trade union is also immune from certain contractual, criminal and civil proceedings. However, registration is optional and not mandatory.

Registration Process: The TU Act provides for the registration of trade unions with the Registrar of Trade Unions in the concerned territory but such registration is not compulsory. It is also possible for more than one trade union to be registered in relation to the same employer. Registration requires that at least seven members subscribe to the union rules. In addition, at least 10% of the workforce or 100 workers, whichever is less, engaged or employed in the establishment, must be members of the trade union connected with such establishment at the time of application. Registration of a trade union is subject to the Registrar’s satisfaction that all primary requirements of the TU Act have been complied with. The Registrar, in deciding whether to grant registration, must base its decision on whether the technical requirements of registration are being fulfilled. If the Registrar fails to register a trade union within three months of application, an appeal can be made to the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution.

Process of Recognition of Trade Unions: Some Indian states have enacted legal provisions setting forth rules and principles for the recognition of trade unions, each with their own criteria. Although there is a proposal in the pipeline which will allow trade unions to make an application for being recognized by the central or state governments. The various state legislations governing trade unions.

Industrial Dispute Act, 1947: The IDA also deals with trade unions in the manner that it regulates the rights of employers and employees in the investigation and settlement of industrial disputes As per the IDA, a settlement arrived at through collective bargaining is binding. Two types of settlements are recognized: i) Those reached in the course of conciliation proceedings before the authority such settlements bind members of the signatory union as well as non-members and all present and future employees of the management. ii) Those reached outside the course of conciliation proceedings, but signed independently by the parties to the settlement such settlements bind only those members who are a signatory or a party thereto.


Management of National Trade Unions consists of 4 levels as given below:


General council (President, VP, Secretary-General, etc.)

 Provincial bodies (at state level chairman, secretariats)

Local bodies (affiliated unions)

National convention/conferences are hold at periodic intervals, say annually or bi-annually. This is the highest policymaking body. This is presided over by the president of the union attended by the delegates such as chairmen of state units, representatives of specialized services, legal experts and delegates from international bodies and special invitees. Office bearers are also elected by this conference. General council consists of president, vice-president, secretary and other office bearers. It carries out policy decisions taken by convention. Various standing committees are set up on rendering study, analysis and recommendations on various aspects like legislative measure, Research and publications, international services etc. State units are headed by chairman of state/regional areas. State units also liaise with National Headquarters; keep a close watch of faithful implementation of labour legislation and practices. It assists/influence state government to pass labour friendly legislation and executive/administration actions. It is also responsible for membership of various unions representing workers in industrial undertakings and/or representing trade and industrial units affiliated to the central trade union. These state units get themselves attached to State/Provincial/HQ/Regional unions/Units. Headquarters (HQ) unions are responsible for welfare of its members and membership drive. As bargaining agents they are involved in collective bargaining with Central Government/ and or State government and assist passing legislative measures.


The globalization is a testing period for all the social partners, even more so for trade unions since it is the worker on whose shoulder the major burden of this transitory period falls. The unions, therefore, would have to take a comprehensive approach in meeting the emerging challenges of the New India. The importance of trade unions has been growing since independence. Collective bargaining is an important aspect in an industrial relation and which in turn depends on the recognition of trade union. Since the enactment of the trade union Act 1926 the attitude that the legislature and executive are very hostile towards the legislations though at many time the consideration of recognition of trade union came up.

Aishwarya Says:

I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.

If you are interested in participating in the same, do let me know.

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In the year 2021, we wrote about 1000 Inspirational Women In India, in the year 2022, we would be featuring 5000 Start Up Stories.

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