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Registration of Trade Unions

As modernisation and industrialization emerged and grew, trade unions were formed eventually. Trade unions are basically an association of employees who share common goals to achieve. Due to various social and economic evils it became necessary for the employees to devise effective means to deal with the employers in the form of trade unions.
Deteriorating economic conditions and low wages resulted in further growth of the trade unions.

During the end of 1925, the number of trade unions eventually increased. They demanded for securing the rights of the employees and a machinery dealing with settlement and prevention of industrial disputes. The continuous exploitation of the employees by the employers resulted in the formation of Trade Unions Act, 1926 in order to protect their interests and fulfil their genuine demands. This Act legalized the right to form and organise unions and therefore, allowed the employees to form trade unions.

The act laid down detailed provisions for the procedure, formation, conditions for the registration of trade unions, advantages of the procedure, advantages of registration and immunities available to the union leaders from civil and criminal laws for the activities of a registered trade union.

Indian Trade Unions Act, 1926 defines trade unions as:
 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[1].

Chapter II of the Trade Unions Act, 1926 deals with the provisions of the registration of the trade unions.

Procedure for Registration of a Trade Union
Under section 3, registrar is appointed for process of registration of the Trade Union.

Also, the Appropriate government is authorised to appoint additional and deputy registrar for particular state, where the registrar of trade union is unable to discharge the powers and functions. Within a local limit, he may exercise the power and functions as Registrar as prescribed for this purpose[2].

Mode of Registration
Section 4(1) of the act, talks about the registration of trade unions. Which says that for the purpose of registration of the trade union, there should be a minimum of seven members. The reason behind the fixation of a minimum of seven members is to encourage the formation of more and more trade unions.

In order to summarize, section-7 talks about the two conditions required to fulfil the registration of a Trade union.

These conditions are:
Requirement of seven or more members as signatories.
Provided that there are 100 or 10% whichever is less are employed in the industry.

The sec 4(2) of the act mentions that any application made under section (1) regarding the registration of a Trade union cannot be termed as invalid merely on the reason that some of the applicants not exceeding half of the total number of persons have:
  • Either ceased to be the members of Trade union before the registration of the Trade union; or
  • Has given a written notice in writing to the Registrar mentioning about their dissociation.

Case Law:
Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (1993)[3]
In this case, the court held that for the purpose of regulating the relations between the workmen and the employers, any group of employees may be registered as a trade union under the act.

Application for Registration
According to the Section-5, application shall be made to the registrar for the registration of trade union and it should be followed with the copy of rules of the Trade Union and following particulars:
  • The name, occupation and address of the members who all are making the application;
  • The name of the Trade Union and the address of its head office; and
  • The titles, names, ages, addresses and occupations of the office-bearers of the Trade Union.
If a trade union already exists for more than a year, then a copy of the assets and liabilities of the Trade Union should be submitted along with the application for registration.

Provisions to be contained in the rules of a Trade Union
As per section-6 of the act, a Trade union shall not be entitled to register under the act, if the provisions and rules mentioned under the act are not duly complied. The rules are as following:
  1. The name of the trade union
  2. The object for which the trade union has been established;
  3. The whole of the purposes for which the general funds of the trade union shall be applicable;
  4. The maintenance of a list of the members of the trade union;
  5. The admission of ordinary members (person engaged or employed in the industry) with which the trade union is connected;
  6. The conditions under which any member shall be entitled to any benefit assured by the rules and under which any fine or forfeiture may be imposed on the members;
  7. The manner in which the rules shall be amended, varied or rescinded;
  8. The manner in which the members of the executive and the other office bearers of the Trade Union shall be elected and removed;
  9. The manner in which the trade union may be dissolved[4].

Power to Call
As per section 7, the registrar may call members of the application to acquire further information to check whether the application is complete as per the provision of section 5, or the Trade Union is enable for registration under section 6, and if all such information is incomplete, registrar may refuse to register the Trade Union.

The registrar has the power to call the person applying for registration to alter the name of the Trade Union, if the name of the Trade Union proposed by the person applying for registration is identical to the name of existing registered Trade Union or if registrar finds it bit similar, which tends to fool the public or the members of either Trade Union. If such alteration doesn't take place, registrar shall refuse to register the Union.

Section 8 of the act mentions that if the Registrar is satisfied that the Trade Union has complied with all the requirements of the act in regard to the registration, then he shall register the Trade union.

Case Law:
North Central Railway Employees Sangh and Others (2017)
In this case, the court held that in order to check whether the registration is given rightly or not, the same can be examined only by the competent statutory authority established under the Trade Unions Act. The other authorities like the police have no role in this.

Inland Seam Navigation Workers' Union (1968)[5]
An application was made by the workers' union to the registrar for registration. But the application was declared unlawful by the registrar by stating the reason that the objects mentioned are for all practical purposes.

The court said that the duties of the registrar include examining the application, looking at the objects for which the union is formed. If the objects for registration falls as per the act and all the requirements and regulations made are complied as per the act, then it is the duty of the registrar to register the union.

ONGC Workmen's Association (1988)[6]
In this case the court made it clear that the registrar is not deemed to be a quasi-judicial authority. He is not entitled to decide any disputed question of fact or law. The Registrar has no authority to ask parties to lead evidence or to cross-examine any witness.

Therefore, it can be said that under section-8, the authority given to the registrar is limited in nature.

Certificate Of Registration
As per section 9, the registrar shall issue a certificate of registration, after registering a Trade Union under section 8. The Trade Union can produce the certificate as evidence, that it has been rightly registered under this Act.

Appeal (Section-11)
If any person doesn't agree with the decisions of registrar related to:
  • refusal to register the Union,
  • withdrawal or cancellation of a certificate of registration may appeal within prescribed time, in following:
    • the head office of trade union which is situated within the restrictions of a presidency town to the High Court
    • the head office of trade union which is situated , within the jurisdiction of a Labour Court or an Industrial Tribunal, to that court or tribunal as the case may be;
    • the head office of trade union which is situated in any area to such court, not subordinate to the court of an additional or assistant judge of a principal Civil Court of original jurisdiction as the appropriate government may appoint.
Accordingly, court may either refuse the appeal or pass an order governing the registrar to take suitable course of action.

Compulsory/ Voluntary Registration
As per the act, the registration of a trade union is not compulsory but it is just voluntary in nature.
It is believed that compulsory registration would prove burdensome and expensive and therefore, it is voluntary in nature.
On the other hand, it is argued that the registration should be made compulsory for the trade unions so that they could be governed by the provisions and rules laid down in the act in a similar manner.

Acts which do not apply to Registered Trade Unions ( Sec-14)
The acts which do not apply to the Registered Trade unions are:
  1. The Societies Registration Act,1860 (21 of 1860)
  2. The Co-operatives Societies Act, 1912 (2 of 1912)
  3. The Companies Act,1956 (1 of 1956)
Such acts shall not apply to any registered trade union, and if any Trade union gets itself registered under any of these acts, then such a registration would be void in nature.

Time Period for registration of Trade Union
In the Trade Unions Act,1926, no time period has been mentioned for the approval or refusal of registration. It is a statutory duty of the registrar to register the trade union if all the requirements of registration is fulfilled duly. But in case, if any provision is not fulfilled then there is no time limit for the grant or refuse the registration.

Case Law:
ACC Rajanka Lime Stone Quarries Mazdoor Union v. Registrar of Trade unions (1958)[7]
The petitioner sent an application for registration of Union on 31st July,1957 to the registrar of Trade Unions Government of Bihar, Patna, under a registered postal cover with acknowledgment due. The Registrar of Trade Union received the application on 3rd of August, 1957. For a long time there was no action taken by the Registrar of Trade Unions.
Petitioner sent many reminders to the Registrar to speed up the process of registration and on 23rd September, a telegraphic reminder was sent by the petitioner, but there was no response to it.

No action was taken for over 3 months, therefore the Union filed a writ petition before the Patna High Court. It requested that the Registrar of Trade Unions should be governed to register or refuse to register the Union as his statutory duty.

It was held by the High Court of Patna that, if the Registrar is satisfied that application of registration is fulfilled with all the requirements of the Act, then as per section 8 it is his statutory duty to register a trade union. The court authorized the registrar to deal with the application of the trade union according to law as soon as possible.

Cancellation of Registration
As per section 10 of the act, the registration of the trade union can be cancelled if the certificate of registration is withdrawn or cancelled by the registrar:
  1. On the application of the Trade union.
  2. If the registrar is satisfied that the certificate of registration is obtained by mistake or fraud
    The Trade union has ceased to exist.
    The Trade union has wilfully contravened the provisions of the act even after the notice from the registrar.

Legal Status of a Registered Trade union
  • Trade Union which is registered shall be a body corporate ( means separate legal entity of trade Union) under the name it has been registered
  • Trade Union have Perpetual Succession which means the existence of the Union or the continuation with regardless of any death, change in membership etc. and a common seal.
  • It also has a power to obtain and hold movable and immovable property and can be a party to contract,
  • It can sue and be sued by the name which is registered.
  • No civil suit or legal proceeding can be proceed against trade union, related to any act done in pursuit of a trade dispute in certain situation.
Benefits of registration of Trade unions
A registered trade union acquires the status of separate legal entity, Which means that it can enter into contracts and can also sue others.

Privileges of Registered Trade Unions
The Trade Unions Act, 1926 has made provisions under section 17&18. Section 17 provides exemption from punishment of criminal conspiracy:
  • imprisonment for not more than six month
  • With fine or both to the member or office-bearers of registered trade union, related to any agreement made between the members with the purpose of facilitating objects of trade union. Section 18 provides immunity from civil proceedings:
    • to the registered trade union
    • any members or office bearers, related to any act done in pursuit of a trade dispute to which a member of the trade is party on the basis that such act provokes some other person
    • to breach a contract of employment,
    • to interfere in trade, business, employment of some other person.
    • interference with the right of some other person to destroy his capital or of his labour.

Immunities of registration of trade unions
Section 17 provides immunity from the criminal liability
Section 18 provides immunity from civil liability.
Section 19 gives privilege to make agreements in restraint of trade.

Difference between Registration and Recognition of Trade unions
The main differences between registration and recognition of trade union is that registration is done by the registrar and recognition is done by management as collective bargaining agent.
None of them is mandatory under Trade Union Act. Registered trade union have certain inherent benefits with it. Whereas, recognition of trade union has no inherent right and once they are recognised, it leads to conferred certain rights upon them.

National Labour Commission Reports on Registration of Trade union
In view of Trade unions Act, 1926 the National Labour Commission has proposed various recommendations in the year 1969:
  1. The registration of Trade unions which is voluntary should be made compulsory.
  2. Some time-limit should be prescribed for the Registrar to decide on the issue of registration.
  3. Effective measures must be taken for cancellation if the conditions mentioned in the Act are not complied by the Unions.
After the above mentioned recommendations, various enactments were passed.

After this, a Second National Labour Commission was established and consequently a second report was submitted in the year 2002.

In this report, the commission recommended the eligibility condition i.e. requirement of 10 percent membership shall not apply in the case of unions in the unorganised sector.

The existence of Trade union creates a healthy working relationship between the employer and the employees.

It is because of Trade union that the workers feel that their rights are duly protected and can anytime create a pressure on the employers if they feel that employers are overpowering them unnecessarily.

Apart from this the registration of Trade union under the Trade union Act, 1926 helped the trade unions to gain recognition and certification. The detailed provisions of the act talks about the procedure, advantages of registering Trade unions and various immunities available to the union leaders from civil and criminal laws for the activities of a registered trade union.

  1. Sec. 2(h) of the Trade Unions Act, 1926
  3. (1996) IIILLJ 362 SC
  5. AIR 1936 Cal 57
  6. (1988) IILLJ 335 Cal
  7. AIR 1958 Pat 470, 1958 (6) BLJR 357, (1958) IILLJ 458 Pat

    Award Winning Article Is Written By: Ms.Tanu Mehta
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