Trade Unions – A Trade Union (TU) is an organisation that employees can join in order to have their interests and goals better represented. A worker will pay an annual subscription and in return will have their interests more powerfully represented than if they had to negotiate with employers on their own.
Trade unions are now considered a sub-system, which seeks to serve the specific sub-groups interest (i.e., the workers) and also considers itself a part of the organisation, in terms of the latter’s viability and contribution to the growth of the community of which it is a part. Therefore, there are trade unions of blue-collar workers, white-collar employees and also employers.
Features of Trade Unions
(1) Voluntary Association – A trade union is basically a voluntary association of employees. Individuals agree on their own to join and act together in order to try and fulfil the purposes for which they come together. It has large number of worker members from one or more occupations.
(2) Community of Interests – Members of a trade union have common interests and problems, which motivates them to unite. A union seeks to regulate relations between employers and workers.
(3) Having Authority Flow from the Members – Since trade unions are voluntary associations of employees, the leaders are elected by the members. Thus, the real authority is vested only with the members of the unions. This is in contrast to the formal organisations, where authority flows from the top to the bottom.
(4) Dealing with Collective Action – By means of collective action, trade unions attempt to match the power and resources of the employers. This collective nature of activities alone helps the trade unions to establish equality with the employers. It also facilitates better bargaining with the employers on matters relating to the interests and rights of the employees.
(5) Acting as an Intermediary – The role of the trade unions within an organisation is similar to that of mediators. Though a trade union is primarily meant for the protection of its members’ interests, it actually plays the role of intermediary between employers and employees. It indeed eliminates the employers’ need to consult each and every employee before taking decisions affecting him. Instead, the employers talk to trade unions that represent the employees. The trade unions, in turn, pass on the information to the employees through their own sources. They also undertake the responsibility of convincing the employees about the decisions taken by the employers in consultation with them.
(6) Sub-System – A trade union is a sub-system of the social system. Therefore, its character undergoes change with changes in economic, social, legal and political conditions of the country. A union functions collectively to protect and promote the interests of its members within a given socio-economic system together in a body.
Objectives of Trade Unions
(1) Providing Income Security – Trade unions strive to improve the economic life of the employees by getting better wage deals from the employers through collective action.
(2) Maintaining Job Security – Trade unions aim at protecting the jobs of the employees. Whenever the employees face a threat of elimination from the employers, in various forms like dismissal, discharge, layoff, retrenchment or compulsory retirement, trade unions resist strongly such designs of the employers to terminate the employees’ services. In fact, trade unions act as an instrument to safeguard the workers from arbitrary and impulsive policies and practices at the workplace.
(3) Preserving Physical Security – Trade unions seek to preserve the health and safety of the employees by asking the employers to provide suitable physical work environment and by insisting on their adherence to safety policies and provisions.
(4) Providing Social Security – Trade unions endeavour to provide a peaceful retired life to the employees by asking the employers to provide adequate retirement and other benefits. They may ensure that the employers contribute adequately and regularly to the statutory funds meant to protect the future well-being of the employees. They may also insist on the employers offering organisational-level schemes for improving the employees’ retirement benefits.
(5) Providing Emotional Security – Trade unions make every effort to improve the employer-employee relationship by constantly engaging in negotiations with the management. They also work systematically to improve the superior-subordinate relationship by resolving the workplace grievances of the workers through appropriate means. Thus, the trade unions, by ensuring peace and, harmony at the workplace, provide emotional security to the employees.
(6) Procuring Political Prowess – Trade unions attempt to improve the bargaining power of the employees by working closely with the political parties of the country. Interestingly, the inter-relations and interactions between trade unions and political parties are quite common in India. In fact, trade unions may even function as wings or affiliates of political parties. Obviously, the political power of the union is used for safeguarding the employees’ interests.
(7) Fostering Industrial Democracy and Equity – Trade unions attempt to promote democratic values by holding elections at periodic intervals to choose their leaders. The democratic exercise empowers the grass-roots workers to participate in the organisational decision-making process indirectly by choosing their own leaders. Most of all, it enables even the lowest-cadre employee to become an office-bearer of a union and participate in collective bargaining at the highest levels of the management. Thus, it aims at achieving industrial democracy, peace and equity.