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Trade Union And Rights Of A Registered Trade Union

The first and the foremost legislation that forms the very basis of introduction of the concept of trade union in India was the Trade Unions Act,1926(hereinafter referred to as 'the Act'). The purpose behind the passing of the act was basically to ensure that the workers who are employed in the industries would be able to organise themselves into Union in order to put forward their demands and raise their voice against any injustice that is being occurred.

The formation of trade unions became protuberant post industrialization where under there were enormous number of industries that were being set up in regions of Mumbai, Kolkata and Jamshedpur. The trade union was formed for the very first time in Mumbai where in the workers for better working conditions since they were made to work under unhealthy conditions for an inadequate wage.

Emergence Of The Reorganization Of Trade Unions:

With the upcoming of communist regime in Russia whereby the workers formed the majority entity, prominent countries through the international labour organisation were of the ideology to recognise trade unions for the purposes of collective bargaining.

The definition of trade union under the Act is exactly reproduced in section 2(Zl) of the Industrial Relations Code (hereinafter referred to as 'the IR Code') as well but the only change in the expression of 'workmen' to 'workers'. The definition is reproduced hereunder for the convenience of the readers.

(zl) "Trade Union" means any combination, whether temporary or permanent, formed primarily for the purpose of regulating the relations between workers and employers or between workers and workers, 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.

The section 4 of the Act which provides for registration of trade union is now brought about by section 6 of the Code which moreover is a reproduction of section 4 of the Act.

Rights Conferred Upon The Trade Union:

Once when a trade union gets registered, it receives certain rights and privileges. The rights so guaranteed for registered trade unions are provided under chapter III of the IR Code from section 12 to 18. Along with the rights that are provided for the registered trade union, there are certain duties entrusted upon the trade union as well.

The rights so guaranteed are:

  • Right as a legal person to the trade union (section 12 of the IR CODE)
  • Right to manage funds of the trade union (section 15 of the IR CODE)
  • Right to be protected against civil proceedings (section 16 of the IR CODE)
  • Right to be protected against Criminal Proceedings (section 17 of the IR CODE)
  • Right of privilege to make agreements in restraint of Trade (section 18 of the IR CODE)
  • Right in inspection of the books of trade union (section 19 of the IR Code)
  • Right of a minor to the membership of the trade union (section 20 of the IR Code)

Right as a legal person to the trade union:

By the virtue of section 12 of the IR Code, the trade union is granted the right granted as a legal person which in turn makes the trade union entitled to certain attributes which are:
  • Making it a body corporate by the name under which it is so registered.
  • Makes it capable of perpetual succession
  • It acquires a common seal
  • It becomes capable of holding and acquiring movable and immovable property
  • Empowering it to enter into contracts
  • It can sue and be sued in its registered name

Right to manage funds of the trade union:

The next right in the row that is granted to the trade union is the right to manage its own funds, for the effective functioning of the trade union funds are quite important and realising the importance of the same, section 15 of the Code provides for it. The section 15(1) makes it very clear of the objective of general funds that the general funds so collected must be utilised on the objects that is mentioned and specified in the rules of trade union and it should not be used on objects that are not specified.

Though there is no express stipulation of the objects in the Code, the Act stipulated certain objects for which the general funds of the trade union must be spent such as for the payment of salary to the office bearers, for conduct of trade dispute, for the legal proceeding that the trade union is a party to.

In the matters involving the payment of promotion of civic and political interest of the members of the trade union, by the virtue of section 15(2) of the Code, the trade union may constitute a separate fund. On the same hand, the sub clause (3) of the same section provides that the trade union cannot compel its members to contribute to the fund and those members of the trade union who haven't contributed to the separate fund cannot be deprived of any benefits of the trade union and cannot be subjected to disadvantages on the same basis except in relation to the purpose of control and management of the fund.

Right to be protected against civil proceedings:
The next right in this row is the right that is conferred for the protection against civil proceedings or in other words immunity against civil proceeding that is entrusted by virtue of section 16 of the Code. This right is one of the most important rights that is granted to a registered trade union since the trade unions in furtherance of their demands may go on to conduct strikes in order to put forward their voices collectively and it those instances to restrain the employers from instituting a civil suit on this basis, the right to be protected against the civil proceedings is granted to the registered trade union.

But this right is not to be availed in all the incidents of strikes and protest but it is limited to the strikes that are peaceful and non-violent, especially this right is conferred only to the registered trade unions.

The language of the section put forward that the there shall be no maintainability of the civil suit or civil legal proceedings against the registered Trade Union or any office-bearer or member for those acts that are done in contemplation with industrial dispute and by the virtue of sub clause (2) of the same section it is making it clear that a registered trade union shall not be liable t in respect of any tortuous act done in furtherance if industrial dispute by an agent of trade union if it is proved that such act is done without knowledge of trade union. Unless or until the Act is unlawful, tortious or violent, there shall be immunity conferred to the registered trade union in this aspect.

The reasoning behind the section is that in order to organise strikes collectively, the situation demands one person to induce another person to break a contract of employment and to interfere with the business or employment in furtherance of a strike to collectively put forward the demands unitedly.

In the case of Rohtas Industries staff vs State of Bihar[1], the issue was pertaining to whether the employer has right to claim damages against the employee who participated in illegal strike in which the court answered negatively by stating that the employers does not have right to claim civil damages irrespective of the fact whether a strike is legal or illegal.

One thing that is to be given at most attention to in this respect is that for claiming civil immunity the strike organised has to be peaceful and non-violent. In the case of Simpson& group company workers & staff union Vs Amco batteries ltd.[2], it was observed that physical obstruction of free movement is not a justified claim of civil immunity.

Right to be protected against Criminal Proceedings:

The section 17 of the IR provides immunity to the office bearers and members of registered trade union from sub-section (2) of section 120B of the Indian Penal Code i.e., criminal conspiracy concerning any agreement which is in furtherance of any of the objects that is mentioned in Section 15 but if there is an agreement to commit an offence there to that extent this section would not be held applicable or in other words immunity will not be conferred.

In the case of S.B. Shinde vs State of Maharashtra[3], the office bearers and the members of registered trade union Bajaj auto limited, Pune caused large scale violence and destruction of property in a two days strike whereby there was disturbance that was caused to the public fees and even the enforcing authority where attack resulting in grave injuries. The court held in this case that such acts of the workers that resulted in violence cannot be conferred protection under section 17.

By the effect of Section 18 of the Code, the agreements that are in restaurant of trade between the members of register Trade union will not be void or voidable just on the basis that the agreement and its object are in restraint of trade. An example for this can be when there is an agreement between the members and office bearers of a register trade union that they will not work in an industrial establishment that provides them with low wages for long hours of working.

Right in inspection of the books of trade union

The section 19 of the IR Code provides for the right of office bearers and members of the trade union to at any time as specified in the rules to inspect the book of accounts and the list of members.

Right of a minor to the membership of the trade union

Under section 20 of the IR Code, the minor who is above 14 years of age and who is employed in non-hazardous industry is granted a right to become the member of registered trade union subjected to the rules of trade union.

These set of rights which are guaranteed to a registered it Trade union ranging from Section 15 to Section 18 of the IR code are very important rights that would help the trade union in order to achieve its goal i.e., to fight for their demands backed by the protection that is conferred by law. These set of rights have great impact upon the trade union's struggle to meet the ends of their demand and to fight for it in a fearless way.

It is very well witness in the pages of history that the leaders of the trade union and the members of the trade union has gone through a lot of struggles behind the bars just because of the fact that they rise to their voices for meeting their just demands. The set of rights makes it evidence of the fact that freedom becomes a reality.

  1. Rohtas Industries staff vs State of Bihar AIR 1976 Pat 170.
  2. Simpson& group company workers & staff union Vs Amco batteries ltd. ILR 1990 KAR 3568.
  3. S.B. Shinde vs State of Maharashtra 1993 SCC Online Bom 307.

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