The codification exercise carried by the Central government into four labour codes subsumed multiple labour legislations. The article delves into the dispute resolution mechanism under the new Industrial Relations Code, 2020 (IRC) whilst engaging in a comparative analysis with the previous regime of Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 (IDA). The article concludes with the authors opinion and analysis of the current regime and the path ahead for industrial dispute resolution structure in India.
Dispute Resolution, Industrial Relations Code, 2020, Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.
Dispute Resolution has been arterial to the industrial and labour law landscape of India. The Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 (now repealed) has been subsumed by the Industrial Relations Code, 2020 as a part of the codification exercise effected by the Central Government aimed towards the ease of business and promotion of industrial development which includes simplification of numerous labour law guidelines and statues into the four major codes 1 . The pertinence of this essay needs to be understood from the elucidation of the objects of the IRC which postulates for the goal of minimization of friction between employers & employees as well as provision for a suitable forum in settling industrial disputes. Further, the object of the legislation purports to achieve harmony in industrial relationship through a cordial relationship between the employer & employee 2 . The object is to be applauded given the fact that the existing Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 (IDA) was riddled with procedural complications and practical implications such as the ineffective labour courts and excessive backlogs of cases. However, the amendments to the dispute settlement provisions needs to be critically analysed and evaluated removing the façade of the object of the statute through an interpretation of the provision, ascertaining whether a significant change has been brought to the current regime.
Dispute Resolution Mechanisms
The repealed Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 (IDA) established a multitude of forums for dispute settlement which included in house grievance cells and committees to conciliation, arbitration and finally labour courts & tribunals. The present code in its discourse of revamp and overhaul of the structure has removed the labour courts, court of inquiry and the conciliation board whilst the other structures have been maintained post their amendments. The first tier comprising the Grievance Redressal Committee (GRC) & Works committee are basically the bi-partite structures as put forth in Chapter II 3 of IRC. The changes brought are that there has been an increase in the number of members from 6 to 10 persons 4 . The mandate of equal representation of employee & employer has been retained in pursuance of the gender-neutral objective of the codification process. Further, an equal number of women’s representation proportional to the workers 5 has been visioned which is a commendable step towards gender neutrality in labour laws devoid in the previous regime. The provision of appeal to the employer on unsatisfactory resolution has been removed, further the holding of the GRC should be affected in such a way that a majority representing the employees need to concede in the decision 6 , this can be deemed as a welcome step. However, there is a chance of counter-productiveness and misuse by the workers in exceptional circumstances for instance the employees in the GRC maybe biased towards their colleagues irrespective of their wrong doings.
The Works committee (WC) is visioned to ensure good relations and preserve amity between the employer & employee 7 and mandates such creation in industrial establishment with more than 100 or more workers 8 . However, this provision when analysed displays excessive governmental interference and arbitrary control. The Mandating of the WC’s creation provides the ‘appropriate government’ authority to pass orders as and when necessary. Additionally, the plain language of the provision lacks reasoning and circumstances for the constitution of the WC and instead yields unlimited powers to the government in both constitution as well as the procedure of the establishment of the committee.
Conciliation as a process has been picking up steam with the development of alternative dispute settlement mechanism in the country and the conciliation officer has been instituted in the IRC whilst removing the conciliation board present in the prior regime. The time period of the conciliation officer in making a settlement is primarily not flexible and has been statutorily stipulated as 45 days in the general industrial dispute & 14 days in cases of dispute received via notice 9 . It is difficult to comprehend the intention of the government in the time period as dispute involving strikes & lock-outs are of major issues and the ascertainment of facts and investigation is time intensive, hence the 14-day period as such does reek of lack of reasonable rational. Further, it is appalling that the government failed to envision an improvement in the current landscape of conciliators and data over the past decade resonates a growing decline of dispute settlement through conciliation and excessive delays in the process 10 .
The final tier of the dispute mechanism involves the industrial tribunal. The labour court does not find mention in the current regime. The tribunal is visioned to have two-types of benches namely a single bench & a dual bench. The matters to be adjudicated is also enumerated under the provisions, alternatively without focusing on the details of the provisions it is important to critically evaluate and analyse certain provisions such as the referring of the matter to the third member in case a decision has not been able to achieve consensus and such third member (judicial member) would be selected by the government. This proviso only does complicate and increases backlogs of the cases instead of easing the work of the tribunals. It has been affected against the recommendations put forth by the standing committee of the parliament suggesting for an ‘odd’ number 11 , thus a three-member tribunal would have been more viable devoid of the excessive delay that will be affected in the process of appointment and government references etc. The favouring of ‘bureaucrats’ 12 has been visioned in the IRC which might be counterproductive as appointment delays and red-tapism would hinder the real objective of the IRC. Further, irrespective of several structural changes in the labour law regime the IRC is leaning towards the enhancement of governmental power and is devoid of respecting the constitutional pillar of ‘Separation of Powers’ which allows the government arbitrary powers to blatantly make modifications or changes to the order of the industrial tribunal 13 . Supplementary to the addition of this provision, the government has granted itself the solitary power of appointing assessors or experts 14 to aide and advise the tribunal on matters, whilst there is no specific provision has to who constitutes ‘specialized persons’, whilst in the previous regime even the court was given the power to appoint assessors.
The Industrial Relations Code, 2020 (IRC) has great visions as envisaged from the objects of the previously proposed draft bill itself, however the code is riddled with several implications of both practice and paper. The code does however, remove the multitude of forums for the dispute resolution, yet, majority of the provisions form the previous regime has crept into the current legislation in a simpler form. The current regime also reflects a tumultuous increase in the power of the government especially certain solitary & arbitrary powers often breaching the doctrine of ‘separation of powers’ and undermining the judiciary in the process. The structural overhaul of the system like the gender-neutral labour law structure and gig workers being included is to be much appreciated, however removing the façade of the codes indicate a regime bundled with complications, inefficiency and practical implications.
1 Code on Wages 2019, Code on Social Security 2020, Industrial Relations Code 2020 and Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code 2020 subsumed 29 existing labour legislations which were repealed.
2 Bill No.120 of 2020, Lok Sabha
3 Bi-Partite Forums
4 Mandates constitution of GRC to industrial establishment with 20 or more workers. Section 4(1) IRC,2020.
5 Ibid, Section 4(4).
6 Ibid, Section 4(7).
7 Ibid, Section 4(3).
8 Ibid, Section 4(1).
9 Ibid, Section 62. In case of Lockout/ Strike
10 Sundar, K., 2009. The Current State of Industrial Relations in Tamil Nadu. [online] Ilo.org. Available here , Sundar, K., 2009. Current State and Evolution of Industrial Relations in Maharashtra. [online] Ilo.org. Available here
11 Standing Committee on Labour (2019-2020), Ministry of Labour and Employment, The Industrial Relations Code, 2019. http://188.8.131.52/lsscommittee/Labour/17_Labour_8.pdf
12 Ibid, Section 45(5).
13 Ibid, Section 55(4). A similar Provision under Section 17A IDA was struck down by AP HC & Madras HC, Union of India v. Textile Technical Tradesmen Association, (2014) 4 LLJ 683.
14 Ibid, Section 49(5).