By Sudhir Katiyar The right to form trade unions in India was granted through the Trade Union Act by the British colonial government in the 1920’s. It is one of the earliest examples of labour legislation. However, registration of a Union today with th …

USi Live

By Sudhir Katiyar

The right to form trade unions in India was granted through the Trade Union Act by the British colonial government in the 1920’s. It is one of the earliest examples of labour legislation. However, registration of a Union today with the Labour Department poses its own set of challenges. It can take up anything from six months to years and sometimes may even be refused. Prayas – USi’s partner organisation – works with workers in the unorganised sector who are mostly seasonal migrants. It has so far facilitated the registration of five independent unions. Another two cases are pending.

Labour is a state rather than India wide subject. The registration has to be done with the state Labour Department. The rules are fairly simple. The basic requirements for registration are

· Enrolment of a 100 members and a resolution by the general body to form the Union

· Election of an executive and office bearers

· Adoption of a Memorandum of Association detailing rules for running the Union

· Legal formalities like affidavits by office bearers on stamp paper

However, the registration is never simple. There are always twists and turns. The problems and issues that come up are detailed below

Verification of workers: The registering authority verifies if the workers who have made the application are actually working at the site. This causes delays. The official correspondence moves at a slow pace. Sometimes by the time the registering authority asks for workers to be produced before it, they may have already migrated back to their homes. Next year they may not come back to work at the same site.

Operational area: The union can be registered at the district level or at the state level. Registration at state level means that workers making the application have to be from all over the state. This increases the time taken for verification. Because of this factor, Prayas has gone for district level registration in brick kilns in Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh even though it works all over the states.

Official expect consideration: in some cases (not all) the officials ask for bribe to be paid. This happened in the case of Rajasthan brick kiln workers union. First there was a response from the registering authority asking for rectification in the application. This was done. Then there was demand for Rs. 5,000/- from the dealing clerk. This was refused. The top officer then said that the registration should be applied for at the district level. This would have meant starting the process all over again. At this point, Prayas threatened to take the matter before the Labour Minister, with whom we had some acquaintance. Finally the registration was done. It took eight months. During this period, the Union had waged a struggled for wage hikes and succeeded. However the employers made a big issue of the Non registration of the Union.

Employer and political resistance: The union registration may also be denied because the Labor Department is not happy with the mode of work and employers do not want the union to be registered. It should be noted that the Labour Department very often works in tandem with the employers. Often they would be receiving a regular retainership from them. So if owners bring pressure for not registering the Union, the Labour Department can stall. This is what is happening in Andhra Pradesh where even though the application was made in December 2012, the registration has not happened yet.


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