Asian Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 14, No. 1, 37–57, January 2009 37
THE CHANGING ROLES OF TRADE UNIONS IN INDIA:
A CASE STUDY OF NATIONAL THERMAL POWER CORPORATION (NTPC), UNCHAHAR Piyali Ghosh1*, Shefali Nandan1 and Ashish Gupta2
1School of Management Studies, Motilal Nehru National Institute of Technology (Deemed University), Allahabad, India 2Probationary Officer, State Bank of India, Kanpur, India
Trade unions are a major component of the system of modern industrial relations in any nation, each having, in their constitution, their own set of objectives or goals to achieve. Change in the political, social and educational environment has seen them rechristened as a forum that protects and furthers workers' interests and improves the quality of life of workers, enlarging their traditional roles of establishing terms and conditions of employment. This paper focuses on plant level trade unions, particularly those of the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) Unchahar plant, one of the largest and best Public Sector Undertakings of India. This exploratory study of the different trade unions operational at the Unchahar plant will also highlight their ideologies, objectives and structures. We aim to capture the changing paradigms in the roles of plant-level unions: from maintaining good industrial relations, once considered their primary role, they now work actively to improve the quality of life of workers, a role earlier considered to be secondary. Keywords: trade union, National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), employee welfare, unionisation, Quality of Work Life (QWL) INTRODUCTION
Trade unions are a major component of the system of modern industrial relations in any nation, each having their own set of objectives or goals to achieve according to their constitution and each having its own strategy to reach those goals. A trade union is an organisation formed by workers to protect their interests and improve their working conditions, among other goals. It is a continuous association of wage earners for the purpose of maintaining and improving working conditions (Dankert, 1948). In developing countries, the right to form a union and bargain collectively protects workers from exploitative and abusive conditions at work and puts pressure on employers to share productivity gains with their employees. Protection of basic worker and human rights in Piyali Ghosh, Shefali Nandan and Ashish Gupta
developing nations thus necessitates unionisation so that the working population can reap the benefits of economic growth (Ghosh & Geetika, 2007). Historically, union representation and collective bargaining have been the keys to the growth of a stable working population in developed economies, and have made it possible for workers to gain a more equitable share of the wealth that they create; they are also able to improve working conditions and help workers gain job security. Changes in the political, social and educational environments regarding awareness of rights – such as the right to organise, the right to bargain, and the right to settle terms and conditions of employment – have caused worker unions to spring up to protect and further workers' interests. Thus, with the establishment of minimum wages, norms for mandatory work hours, provisions for health and safety, and overall improvements in working conditions, unionisation has become instrumental in improving the quality of life of workers (Ghosh & Geetika, 2007). Studies suggest numerous reasons behind the emergence of labour movement. According to Tannenbaum (1921), the machine is the cause and labour movement is the result. Hoxie (1921) believes that trade unions appeared as a group expression of the social situation in which workers found themselves and as remedial programmes with particular aims, policies and methods. Perlman (1928) believes that trade unionism arose from job consciousness and scarcity of job...
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