Some of the major problems faced by trade unions in India are as follows: 1. Small Size 2. Poor Finance 3. Politicisation 4. Multiplicity of Unions 5. Lack of Enlightened Labour Force 6. Miscellaneous Problems.
According to the veteran trade union leader V.V. Giri, “the trade union movement in India is plagued by the predominance of small sized unions”. To quote there were 9,023 trade unions submitting returns during the year 1992. The total membership of these unions was 57.4 lakhs, with an average membership of 632 per union. Nearly three-fourths of the unions have a membership of less than 500. Smallness in size of the union implies, among other things, weakness in bargaining power.
Small size of unions has its direct bearing on its financial health. Total income and total expenditure of 9,073 trade unions with a membership of 57.4 lakhs were Rs. 3,238 lakhs and Rs. 2,532 lakhs respectively in 1992. The per member income and expenditure, thus, come to Rs. 56.4 and Rs. 44.1 respectively”. These are, by all means, very low. It is the small size of trade unions accompanied by small subscriptions; the trade unions cannot undertake welfare activities.
A serious defect of the trade union movement in India is that the leadership has been provided by outsiders’ especially professional politicians. Leaders being affiliated to one or the other party, the unions were more engrossed in toeing the lines of their political leaders than protecting workers’ interests.
Ironically, in many cases, the political leaders possess little knowledge of the background of labour problems, fundamentals of trade unionism, the techniques of industry, and even little general education. Naturally, unions cannot be expected to function efficiently and on a sound basis under the guidance of such leaders.
Of late, trade unionism in India is also characterised by multiplicity of unions based on craft, creed and religion. This is well indicated by the socio-political realities after the mandalisation of polity and heightened sectarian consciousness after the demolition of the disputed structure of Ayodhya.
As noted earlier, the multiplicity of unions is mind-boggling in the DTC (50), the SAIL (240) and the Calcutta Corporations (100). The implication of multiplicity of trade unions is that it leads to union’s rivalry in the organization. Obviously, multiplicity of unions contributes to fragmentation to workers leading to small-sized unions.
The lack of an enlightened labour force capable of manning and conducting the movement efficiently, purposefully and effectively has been a major problem in the development of trade unions in the country. Lack of education, division by race religion, language and caste, migratory nature, lack of self consciousness, and non-permanent class of workers have been attributed as the causes for the lack of enlightened labour force in India.
The other problems from which trade union movement has suffered include:
(i) The majority of registered unions are independent unions as only 16,000 units out of 50,000 registered unions are affiliated to the Central Trade Unions (CTUs). One possible reason for this IS the educated workers’ preference to the independent unions,
(ii) It is also found that about 90% of workers in the public sector are unionized while in case of the private sector only 30 % workers are unionized”. This is a World-Wide trend, not only featuring in India. But it has a serious implication for trade union movement in India as more and more public sector undertakings are privatized. In turn, the trade union membership is to decline, a trend already visible by now.
(iii) Given the fast changing industrial scenario, jobs are moving from the organized formal sector to informal sector. However, the unorganised sector which constitutes about 90% of the total work force does not come under the purview of the trade unions.
The Second Five-Year Plan scanned the defects of the trade union movement in India as follows:
“Multiplicity of trade unions, political rivalries, lack of resources, disunity in the ranks of workers etc., are some of the major weaknesses in a number of existing unions”.