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Definition of Union under M.R.T.U. and P.U.L.P. Act 1971

Definition of Union under M.R.T.U. and P.U.L.P. Act 1971

The definition of the term ‘union’ under M.R.T.U. and P.U.L.P. Act 1971 is as follows.

Sec. 3(17):-

Union means, a trade union of employees, which is registered under the trade unions Act 1926

It must be noted that in the definition, the word employee is not preceded by words like mainly, largely or substantially.  Thus, the plain meaning, which the definition conveys is that.  to qualify as a ‘union’ under the M.R.T.U. and P.U.L.P. Act 1971, the trade union has to be a union exclusively, of employees.

This definition is in striking variation with the definitions  of ‘union’ under the ‘Trade unions Act, 1926’, and Industrial disputes act, 1947, but is identical to definition under the Bombay industrial relations act, 1946.

The respective definitions in those Acts, for the sake of any reference are stated below

Sec.2{h} of Trade Unions Act 1926

The trade union means any combination, whether temporary or permanent formed primarily for the purpose of regulating relations between the 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.

Section 2 (qq) of Industrial disputes act, 1947

Trade union means a trade union registered under the Trade unions act, 1926.

Section 3(38) of the Bombay industrial relations act, 1946

‘Union’ means a trade union of employees, which is registered under the Trade unions act, 1926

The reasons for radically different definitions of ‘union’, under the Bombay industrial relations act, 1946, M.R.T.U. and P.U.L.P. Act 1971 and under Trade Unions Act 1926 and Industrial Disputes Act 1947 are not difficult to find out .In both the Acts i.e. Bombay Industrial Relations Act 1946 and M.R.T.U. and P.U.L.P. Act 1971, it is possible for the unions to seek and get statutory recognition on fulfilling certain prescribed conditions. Thereafter they get status of representative union for an area and recognized union for the establishment under above mentioned Acts. Those unions acquire the status of soul bargaining agents for employees   and are bestowed with the plenary powers for raising disputes, entering into settlements for representing employees in proceedings under the respective Acts etc.

Some of the Powers and privileges of the Representative union are spelt out in section 25,27(A),30,42,73 of the Bombay industrial relations act, 1946 and of Recognize unions, in section 20 and 21 of the M.R.T.U. and P.U.L.P.Act1947.  In addition, similar high status is accorded to Recognize unions under industrial disputes Act 1947 also, although the term Recognized union is not defined under the said act

In view of the important position acquired by the Representative or Recognize unions in the field of collective bargaining and adjudication. Even to the extent of excluding the individual employees or other unions to a large extent, it is necessary and important that those unions must represent employees and employees alone and their membership should be restricted to employees only de-facto and de-jure.  The object of the unions must be to regulate the relations between the employees and workmen, and therefore if the persons who do not answer the definition of employees in above Acts are permitted to become members of the trade union, the legitimate interested of the employees may be compromised.

Coming back to the definition of the ‘union’ under the Bombay industrial relations act, 1946, and M.R.T.U. and P.U.L.P. Act 1971, the words being very clear and without any ambiguity, they must be given plain and ordinary meaning.  The support can be found in the decision of the division bench of the Hon. Mysore High Court in the matter of workmen of the ’B.R.Darbar Ginning and Pressing Factory,1969 II LLJ page 25’. In the said matter, the Hon High Court was interpreting the meaning of ‘Association of employers’.  In sec. 36 (2) of the Industrial disputes act, 1947. Hon. Court held that:-

Where the law mentions ‘an association of employers’.  The same cannot be read as meaning an association of employer and non employers. Considering the fact that the three clauses of sub-sec (1) and (2) are identically worded, we are of opinion that just as sub-sec.(1) contemplates a trade union, sub-sec.(2)  contemplates an association of employers only.  When the law permits, an association of employers to be represented through their officer, it necessarily implies that the association must be of persons interested in safeguarding and defending the claims and interests of employers. Whether such association is of workmen or of employers, the main feature of the Association is collective bargaining, such association should consist of members with community of interest forming a coherent union and competent to speak or make agreement for its own side.  Since the representation contemplated by Sec.36 (1) or 36(2) is through another, the intention of the law is to permit each side of the industry to combine under a registered union or recognized Association to act with one mind in the interest of the respective union or association. If an association consists of employers, and non employers, there is likelihood of conflict of interest arising and the association may not be an effective instrument to represent the claims and safeguard the interests of all the members of the association.  Construing the word used in sub-sec.(2) in their plain and normal sense, we are of opinion that the association of employers should be a combination of employers only.”

The said view was upheld by the Division bench of Hon. Gujarat High Court in the matter of ‘H.A.I. chhaporia V/S Mahavir General Hospital, 1993 II LLN Page 632’.

The similar interpretation was approved by three judges bench of Hon. Andhra Pradesh High Court in the matter of ‘Andhra Pradesh Power Diploma Engineers Association V/S Andhra Pradesh State Electricity Board, 1996  I LLN Page 688.It was held in Para 10 that:-

The phrase’ association of employers’ in the plain sense would mean the status of the members of the association to be that of employers. The use of the words being specific, and there being no ambiguity, the words are to be understood in their natural sense and are susceptible to the only meaning that the association must be of persons who are employers and have formed themselves into an association because of their status as such.  In other words, the membership of the Association must be qualified employers, and not otherwise viz. it is not meant to be in association of persons, enjoying different and varieties of status, of which some accidentally happen to be employers..  The qualification for becoming members of the association must be that of employers. In common parlance, when an association is named as Association of particular kind of persons, what is meant is the classification of group of such persons, who answer the classification.  Thus, an association of traders is designed to be a group of traders and an association of physicians is designed to be a group of physicians.  It may be that in such association, some other persons may be contemplated to be taken in as members, as in voluntary associations, it may no bet uncommon to have some heterogeneous persons, whose inclusion is made because of some specific purpose.  But when a statute speaks of an association of the specific kind of persons as forming a classification, it is the legislative intendment, which is paramount, and it is to be  interpreted in that sense alone.  It is for this reason, it has to be understood that when sec.(2) speaks of an association of employers or Federation of association of employers, it is meant to be association of employers alone and not of others”

From the foregoing, it appears that what is applicable to ‘association of employers’ is equally applicable to ‘union of employees’. Thus for being a union of employees it’s membership should be open only to those who answer the definition of an employee and constitution permits, only the employees to become its members.  The meaning of the term employee would be the workman under the Industrial Disputes Act 1947and an employee under the Bombay Industrial relations Act 1946 respectively.

A trade union, which does not fulfill the about conditions  and whose membership is open to non employees also would not be a union  as defined  Under the Bombay industrial relations act 1946, or under at M.R.T.U. and P.U.L.P. Act 1971, and therefore would not qualify to seek Representative of Recognized character. They also may not be entitled to enjoy the rights powers and special privileges of those unions under different Acts.

Needless to add that such unions, whose constitution allows only employees to become members are rare, and generally the constitution allows all those in employment in particular industry or establishment to become a member, irrespective of category, to which they belong.

Thus, there is need for the unions to check and if necessary to amend the constitution  to answer the definition of union under Bombay Industrial Relations Act 1946  and the M.R.T.U. and P.U.L.P. Act 1971.

Similarly to minimize statutory rigour the definition of Union under above mentioned Act may be amended to include the unions, whose membership is largely or substantially of employees.

Jagadish D. Paranjape Advocate

Flat No.1,Laxmi Prasaad Apt.

Sadashiv Peth , Pune 411030



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