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India: Labor Relations
Country Study > Chapter 6 > Character and Structure of the Economy > Labor > Labor Relations

LABOR RELATIONS


The Trade Unions Act of 1926 provided recognition and protection for a nascent Indian labor union movement. The number of unions grew considerably after independence, but most unions are small and usually active in only one firm. Union membership is concentrated in the organized sector, and in the early 1990s total membership was about 9 million. Many unions are affiliated with regional or national federations, the most important of which are the Indian National Trade Union Congress, the All-India Trade Union Congress, the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, the Indian Workers' Association, and the United Trade Union Congress. Politicians have often been union leaders, and some analysts believe that strikes and other labor protests are called primarily to further the interests of political parties rather than to promote the interests of the work force.

The government recorded 1,825 strikes and lockouts in 1990. As a result, 24.1 million workdays were lost, 10.6 million to strikes and 13.5 million to lockouts. More than 1.3 million workers were involved in these labor disputes. The number and seriousness of strikes and lockouts have varied from year to year. However, the figures for 1990 and preliminary data from 1991 indicate declines from levels reached in the 1980s, when in some years as many as 35 million workdays were lost because of labor disputes.

The isolated, insecure, and exploited laborers in rural areas and in the urban unorganized sectors present a stark contrast to the position of unionized workers in many modern enterprises. In the early 1990s, there were estimates that between 10 percent and 20 percent of agricultural workers were bonded laborers. The International Commission of Jurists, studying India's bonded labor, defines such a person as one who works for a creditor or someone in the creditor's family against nominal wages in cash or kind until the creditor, who keeps the books and sets the prices, declares the loan repaid, often with usurious rates of interest. The system sometimes extends to a debtor's wife and children, who are employed in appalling working conditions and exposed to sexual abuse. The constitution, as interpreted by India's Supreme Court, and a 1976 law prohibit bonded labor. Implementation of the prohibition, however, has been inconsistent in many rural areas.

Many in the urban unorganized sector are self-employed laborers, street vendors, petty traders, and other services providers who receive little income. Along with the unemployed, they have no unemployment insurance or other benefits.

Data as of September 1995




Last Updated: September 1995


Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for India was first published in 1995. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on Factba.se.

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