When we discuss about the implementation of and monitoring
compliance with international labour standards (ILS),
certain questions naturally arise in our minds.
setting up of ILS and the stipulation to implement them
take into account the vast differences between the north
and south blocks in their socio-economic, demographic
and political systems?
these systems have any relevance in formulating and
recommending ILS? Or vice versa, do the standards lend
themselves relevant in a world of varying economic,
political and social diversities?
so, what are the basic changes that are to be brought
to ILS to make the nations compatible to ratifying them?
is a valid reason for bringing such critical questions
to the fore at the outset itself. Unfortunately, some
of the industries in the developed nations, including
the US, which are to be a model for the developing nations
in regard to compliance with ILS, are themselves often
found flouting the standards.
corporations, while adhering to ILS in their own countries,
follow double standards dishonestly and surreptitiously
in their environmental, labour and human rights practices
abroad, especially in the third world countries, where
they put up their factories and industries.
example, in regard to the issue of equal remuneration,
these corporations do not pay their employees of the third
world countries, who are engaged in their factories set
up in these countries, an equal amount that would be payable
in their own countries. Worse, the employees are compelled
to work for more than eight hours.
forum should examine why this unethical exploitation of
labour by the developed nations in the developing countries
is happening. And this leads to another question: Is it
ever possible to enforce a uniform ILS in a world of multiplicity
and economic pluralism?
developed nations, where technological advancement is
an advantage over labour, which is limited or unavailable
and costly as well, one of the biggest strengths of the
developing countries is the abundant availability of cheap
labour. However, there are some issues such as surplus,
unskilled and low-productive labour, unbridled employment
guarantees, minimum wages not linked to productivity,
the onus of providing health, welfare and social-security,
too much freedom of association and collective bargaining,
which have come to stay like the legendary holy cow in
a Hindu society.
has any government had the resolve to amend the anachronistic
labour laws the vestiges of the colonial
rule for fear of losing the vote banks, nor has
any trade union ever attempted to discuss the demerits
of these issues for fear of their power-base being eroded.
This has been going on for long and the time has come
to change all this.
like injustice, hardship, privation, denial of other human
and civil rights, forced labour and child labour are almost
things of the past as far as organised labour is concerned.
And the labour reforms over the years based on ILS have
had a spectacular impact on the global and Indian industry
in a changing world, where a predominantly agrarian organic
economy like that of India is becoming an increasingly
modern industrial economy with privatisation of the public
sector and the increased entry of private business houses
and multinationals in many areas, there is a demand for
a different approach to several labour issues.
talking about labour reforms in tune with international
labour standards, everybody agrees that changes in the
national labour laws are essential. But which are the
labour laws in a country that require change and what
are the changes proposed? How are we going to effect the
changes without biases? There are a whole lot of other
posers to the matter in focus.
impact of compliance with ILS on industry
Stiff competition in the market place calls for renovation
of traditional industrial relations and labour legislation
and related subjects with innovative concepts that are
business-friendly. In todays world, capital investment
and business development is seen more important than the
employment of the labour force, thanks to the rapid technological
advancement and global competition.
it is needless to state that the complex interface between
globalisation, trade liberalisation and social development
should be fully understood; only then will any industry
or nation be better equipped to harness globalisation
and maximise the economic and social benefits of globalisation
for good or bad, globalisation has become inevitable.
And for a country that strives to become the workshop
of the world, new thinking in the labour market has to
dawn, dispelling the darkness of protectionism
and bringing to light the goods as well as the evils of
liberalisation, privatisation and global competition.
The good aspects are to be amplified and the evil ones
are to be corrected, only then will any reform process
have the desired impact on industry.
impact of ILS on industry could be positive or negative
depending on the nature and scope of ILS to be complied
with, the nature and extent of the industry and how labour
intensive it is, the perception of the parties concerned
(the employers, the employees and the trade union), and
the effectiveness of government regulations and the monitoring
of wage levels and other labour costs, optimisation of
employee strength, increase in labour productivity and
competency, curbing of unwanted and destructive labour
unionisation, proliferation of industries and more investments
leading to employment generation, enhanced health and
safety standards and more foreign direct investment will
be some of the positive impact on the industry when compliance
with ILS is strictly followed.
of the negative impact would be inequality and lack of
solidarity, increase in autocratic management, high rate
of labour retrenchment, increase in labour unrest, strikes,
lockouts and other industrial disputes, overall decline
in the informal sectors (for example, agriculture, which
is a very vital sector), social problems leading to industrial
downturn, sickness, and closure of indigenous national
be the impact due to compliance with ILS, we should first
see why compliance is often found missing in most of the
cases. It is most unfortunate that the trade unions and
even the governments, of late, see a hidden agenda or
a red alert in any effort by the global body to implement
ILS across the world. It is seen by a majority of the
trade unions that labour standards are compulsorily imposed
on developing countries.
instead of becoming alert on best-altering their labour
issues to be in tune with globalisation and liberalisation,
the developing nations are getting alarmed about the stipulations
embedded in and the situation arising out of conventions,
recommendations and subsequent ratification.
perception of the governments and the trade unions that
ILS are designed to be fetters on and, not as liberators
of the labour force, affects the implementation of the
process and makes compliance difficult. Given this situation,
the industrial sector in countries like India also feels
helpless and hopeless that these lopsided views on one
side and the urgency with which the global industry calls
for compliance of ILS on the other side are a real threat
to their growth and competitiveness. A majority of problems
faced by the industry in implementing ILS arise from this
complex situation. This is the foremost issue to be studied
fuel to fire is the national governments half-baked
admixture of economic policies. Take for example, in India,
what we have today is a conglomeration of economic policies
taken from the days of British raj punched with philosophies
propounded by Gandhiji down to Vajpayee. This national
economic policy conundrum is yet another hurdle that makes
compliance to any ILS difficult in its true letter and
spirit. Hence consistency, tenacity, veracity and transparency
in economic and legal policies and practices are a prerequisite
to make the compliance effective.
is no dispute about the issue of trade union militancy
and labour redundancy that despoil the industry of its
growth and competency. These are problems to be tackled
sternly. But at the same time there are issues, which
are to be handled with velvet gloves. These are the issues
that mainly concern employees social-safety net.
a lot is bragged about the merits of HRD and corporate
social responsibility, in practical business development
programmes the subjects are not given much of importance.
That is a major flaw, which leads to problems in implementing
any meaningful labour reforms, that is labour reforms
without consideration for a social safety net.
should always remember that the emergence of the trade
union movement and later union militancy leading to the
worsening of the employer-employee divide had happened
due to the misadventure in the early era of overexploitation
of and the inhuman treatment meted out to labour.
concept and practices changed over the years due to evolution
of social theories and professional management practices
like personnel management, social welfare administration
and human resource development. Ironically today, in the
context of globalisation and trade liberalisation in the
WTO regime, the employer-employee dichotomy is again strained
and stained. This needs real-time attention.
the post-WTO era, one more issue that has a direct impact
on the industry requires immediate attention, especially
in the third world countries. At one end, the virtues
of corporate social responsibility are eulogised and at
the other end the industry is asking the government to
take over from the employers the responsibility of providing
health and welfare measures to the employee community.
should be noted that it is not only the globalisation
pressures but also the failure of the governments to provide
welfare measures and basic infrastructure to the employees
and the industry respectively and also its inefficiency
and indifference in implementing certain essential labour
reforms that have led to such a demand from the industry.
governments should at least be willing to share its responsibility
with the corporate to provide these welfare measures to
the employees. After all, by industrial development the
ultimate beneficiary is the government, which can pride
itself of its industrial growth and development and its
ability to integrate with global economy.
for bringing about the necessary, desired and positive
impacts of ILS on industries and nations, the global body
should first of all help remove the snags in these areas.
Thus we have some issues to tackle at the government level.
They are the host of anachronistic legislations affecting
trade, finance and industrial policy, confused mixture
of economic policies and philosophies of the nations,
shenaniganism and pluralistic game-plays by political
parties and legislators, unstable government and bureaucratic
pressures, corrupt and inefficient monitoring mechanism
in the member states.
the industry and corporate level, issues like corporate
misgovernance, non-professionalism, lapses in corporate
culture and industrial relations, lack of corporate social
responsibility and diversity of sick and informal industry
pose as hurdles. Coming to the workers and union
level, ignorance and arrogance leading to misunderstanding,
breaches of agreements, strikes and lockouts, socio-economic
problems and lack of other supporting systems, lack of
alternative employment opportunities, vast majority of
unorganised labour and so on and so forth make compliance
to ILS difficult. So, it is very important to address
these issues first and attempt to solve the inherent problems,
lest any effort to bring about labour reforms in the context
of ILS would be in vain.
case of plantation industry
The plantation industry, like some exceptional organised
industries in India, has done away with some of the worst
forms of labour practices long ago. For example, child
labour, forced labour, inequality in remuneration and
discriminatory labour practices were rampant in the plantation
at a time when the Indian tea industry is facing a lot
of problems, some of the plantation companies and small
private holdings have resorted to paying labour wages
lower than minimum wages, defaulting even the statutory
payments like provident funds and gratuity to workers,
working hand in glove with trade union leaders for carrying
out discriminatory labour practices, not adequately taking
care of the health and safety of the workers.
there are reputed corporates in the field, which still
continue with their fair and square labour practices.
Ironically, they are the ones that suffer the brunt and
the plantation companies that flout the rules and regulations
of the land and the ILS on the whole, in the context or
pretext of the crisis situation, go scot-free. Here again
one can see the power lobbies in the government corridors
conveniently keep mum over the issues.
plantation companies that adhere to legal stipulations
and social obligations, face some constraints in the form
of lack of autonomy and strangulating complex legislation,
which make the industry suffer the onslaught of globalisation.
For example, on retirement of a worker, an eligible member
from the workers family fills the resultant vacancy.
This tradition has developed as a result of the demands
of workers themselves years ago.
today this provision, this freedom to bargain,
denies the employer the right to make a recruitment choice
in filling up of vacancies arising out of superannuation
or medical termination. Even though such a filling up
of vacancy may be superfluous, the employer is bound to
take on a member from the family of such a worker. This
is one example, where the tea industry is at a receiving
another constraint is the Plantation Labour Committee,
a tripartite settlement forum, which was started with
good reason to provide justice to the employee as well
as employers, has now turned out to be a hurdle. In the
sense that the industry is unable to have any bilateral
settlement with the trade unions however reasonable or
logical or temporary it is in tune with the present crisis
situation. For example in the case of wages and bonus,
which are to be reworked, the industry is unable to do
so by having consultation only with the unions on an honest
and transparent manner. This complex and rigid structure
should be made fluid.
of political will also poses problems for the tea industry.
The biased pro-labour and anti-industry stand of political
parties and governments in dispute settlements, wage settlements,
and other issues relating to industrial relations also
affects the industry. Lack of a WTO Compatible National
Plantations Policy by the government also denies the tea
industry the fullest benefit of globalisation.
example, the high discrepancy seen among the plantation
labour of India and other competing nations like Sri Lanka,
Kenya and Bangladesh works against the progress of the
industry, which in turn leads to closure of a number of
tea plantations resulting in unemployment for a large
are other complex legal frameworks like the Plantation
Labour Act, 1951, which stipulates the mandatory social
overheads like providing accommodation, crèche
facilities, medical facilities and education are a real
drain on the part of the industry. It should be amended
to relieve the plantations of the onus; instead the governments
should take up this responsibility as it is done in the
case of other industries.
Trade Union Act, 1926, which saw amendments in 1964, has
remained untouched. Proposals like minimum 10 per cent
of the workforce as a prerequisite for union recognition,
only one third of outsiders as office bearers instead
of 50 per cent and strict annual auditing of union funds
could not be effected. Thus we see multiplicity of trade
unions, outsiders with vested interest not working for
the progress of the industry, fraudulence in fund raising
and other activities.
it is a fundamental right of the employees to have freedom
of association, there should be some logic in their functioning.
The world has seen a number of reformations taking place
in the case of laws governing the companies and their
boards of directors. Stringent laws on corporate governance
are refining the conduct of industries. But laws in relation
to trade union governance and labour reforms are treated
so sacrosanct and no one dares to fine-tune
them. Thus uncontrolled liberty to trade unions and untouched
labour legislation do affect the industrys progress
directly and indirectly.
also prompts us to take a re-look at one of the ILS regarding,
Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining.
Even though it is a fundamental right of any individual
or organisation to get associated with any political or
social set-up, unreasonable freedom of association has
become an antithesis to industrial development.
for example, the union activities in the plantation sector
in India. There is an umpteen number of trade unions in
some sectors that make the collective bargaining a nightmare.
At the end of almost every collective bargaining or negotiation,
with so many trade unions in the fray, either there is
a stalemate that leads to industrial unrest or a settlement
that is illogical and lopsided with the industry suffering
the outcome of such a settlement.
some cases, the real beneficiaries are the trade union
leaders and not the working community! Though in these
cases, the shady dealings with the trade unions do help
certain industrial houses in the short term, in the long
run such dealings again lead to industrial unrest. Hence
the only way to have a meaningful collective bargaining
that is neither anti-labour nor anti-industry is to have
an industry-wide trade unionisation rather than political
party-based trade unionisation.
is high time the issues pertaining to labour and trade
union in case of the plantation industry were studied
carefully by the concerned authorities and reasonable
amendments and reforms were implemented for the benefit
of the industry, lest it is going to affect about three
million labour directly employed by the plantation industry
and conventions are to be held on this issue to sort out
differences and discrepancies. Such measures at one end
would help monitor the defaulters in the plantation industry
who dont comply with ILS and at the other help do
away with outdated, unreasonable and unnecessary legal
provisions and procedures to liberate the industry for
can monitoring and compliance be improved?
By and large, the organised sector complies with the core
and substantive labour standards, since in most of the
organised industries we find an established traditional
or professional system to implement, monitor, evaluate
and improvise the labour standards for the sake of accomplishing
the statutory obligation or for actualising the philosophy
of good corporate citizen.
is however in the unorganised industry, compliance and
monitoring of compliance is lacking. And wherever there
is lapse on the part of any organised industry in complying
with the standards, it is due to the failure of the monitoring
machinery of the government since it is more a rule than
an exception in these cases where there is predictably
a secret collusion between the employer and the trade
union or/and invariably between the employer and the power
corridors of government.
for example, one of the core labour standards abolition
of child labour. Most of the organised industries have
abolished child labour. In principle, abolition of child
labour is very ideal and essential and demands our immediate
attention. But child labour is still a harsh reality in
a few organised industries and almost in all unorganised
informal industries in the developing countries. Why?
poverty is the appalling truth behind this. Hence, from
a pragmatic point of view, any attempt to abolish child
labour should aim at providing an alternative system of
education and subsequent vocational rehabilitation to
the vast number of children who are at present employed
by these industries. It is not good enough if there is
only a stringent law to abolish child labour. What is
required is an alternative system to alleviate poverty
and educate and rehabilitate the children.
this is the ground reality, General Surveys under Article
19 by the Committee of Experts and the Conference Committee
on the Application of Standards relies on the information
contained in governments reports and reports submitted
to the ILO by employers and workers organisations.
These are mainly documented reports.
the actual picture may be entirely different. Too much
reliance on reports from each member state on the position
of its law and practice in regard to matters dealt with
in conventions, recommendations and ratification to assess
the extent to which effect is given or proposed to be
given to any of the stipulated provisions therein is no
good. This has to change. There has to be direct supervision
mechanism has to be built in each formal industrial sector
for direct monitoring. Commissions or committees consisting
of the tripartite representatives, selected or appointed
by ILO from each industrial sector and respective national
governments under the leadership of an ILO representative,
could be formed to study the feasibility of such a proposition.
way of making monitoring and compliance effective would
be to introduce an ILS certification programme. Some form
of substantial incentives or internationally recognised
merit points could be introduced through this system of
ILS certification programme to motivate industries and
individual representatives for outstanding service in
implementing and monitoring ILS as the case may be. This
recognition would make the qualifying industry more competitive.
I have already highlighted, it is a bitter fact that all
the three parties involved namely the governments, employers
and workers representatives from the developing
world are eyeing the standards with suspicion and finding
the process of compliance with them difficult.
is this skepticism about and inability to comply with
the ILS that should be studied and addressed, if ILO is
keen to help implement the standards for the socio-economic
growth and development of the nations concerned and for
creating a conducive global industrial climate. This calls
for an educational scheme to conscientise the legislators,
trade union representatives and industry representatives
effective compliance of ILS, there are some other issues
that are to be addressed. First of all, the north-south
divide should be bridged through integration of technology
and manpower. There should also be a cohesive international
framework for bringing together capitalism and socialism
for successful and sustainable industrial growth. As regards
the industry and employee representatives are concerned,
both the ringmaster image of the employer
and the rogue-like nature of the employee
should be changed to establish a leadership with trust
ensuring mutual respect and cooperative approach to issues
resulting in professionally enriched corporate culture.
finally, what is needed is effective teamwork among the
ILO, the governments, and the representatives of industry
and employees. They should have free and frank discussions
sans pride and prejudices on the various issues concerning
ILS to arrive at industry-friendly decisions for national
and global economic growth. All these call for micro and
macro level strategic corrections, which organisations
like the National Academies could take up with the help
of the parties concerned.
exemplary model from India
When we talk about ILS, even before the formation of ILO
and at a time when the concept of labour reforms was at
its nascent stage even in many of the so-called developed
nations, it was the Tata group, industrial pioneers in
India, which saw labour welfare and corporate social responsibility
as its primary duty as a good corporate citizen.
was the Tatas who introduced labour welfare benefits long
before they were enacted by law in India with a view to
improving their industrial relations, growth and development.
Tata Iron & Steel Company, for example, pioneered
several labour welfare measures, which included an eight-hour
working day (1912), free medical aid (1915), establishment
of a welfare department (1917), leave with pay (1920),
workers provident fund scheme (1920), maternity
benefits (1928), profit sharing bonus (1934), retiring
gratuity (1937) and workmens accident compensation
responsibility is inherent in the Tata group, whose philosophy
is constructive philanthropy as propounded
by its founder, late Jamsetji Tata. Tata felt that Indians
should excel in education, especially in scientific and
technological education, for bringing about industrial
development in India. Thus came the first technological
institution in India, the Indian Institute of Science,
Bangalore, which opened in 1911.
only in technical education but also in other fields of
education, the Tatas blessed India with necessary infrastructure.
For example, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (1936),
the Tata Memorial Centre for Cancer Research and Treatment
(1941), the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (1945),
which was to become the cradle of Indias atomic
energy programme, and the Tata Management Training Centre
(1966) are some of the creative educational initiatives
by the group for the betterment of the society.
are a lot of the model programmes started by the Tata
group companies to improve the lot of their own employees
and the surrounding communities as well. One such is the
programme of link workers implemented by Tata Tea, the
worlds largest integrated tea company. It is a proactive
scheme of volunteer training for community development
and social welfare among its employees.
link-workers are a select group of volunteers from among
the 57,000 permanent employees of Tata Tea, who serve
as a bridge between the management and the working community
in matters related to health, welfare, socio-economic
issues and labour issues. It is an innovative programme,
which no other industrial house has tried in India. A
worthy model to emulate in implementing ILS in the industries
excellent example of implementing such initiatives in
regard to labour relations by the Tata group of companies
in India shows that if an industrial house with an enlightened
management is proactive in industrial relations, responsible
in its community initiatives and labour-friendly at the
bottom level, anything is possible.
Tata group companies are governed by a set of codes of
conduct, which put in force some stringent stipulations
that make regulatory compliance mandatory. One of the
conditions is that a Tata company shall provide equal
opportunities to all its employees without any discrimination
whatsoever. Employees of a Tata company are treated with
dignity and in accordance with the Tata policy to maintain
a work environment free of any harassment.
policies and practices are administered in a manner that
ensures that in all matters equal opportunity is provided
to those eligible and the decisions are merit-based. There
are other conditions with regards to health, safety and
environment and corporate citizenship, which act as guiding
lights of the Tata group. All industries should have similar
codes of conduct to be followed in letter and spirit to
make compliance with and monitoring of ILS easy.
the pursuit of business interests, many industrial houses
forget their social responsibility but here is an exception.
One of the founding-principles of corporate social responsibility
of the House of Tatas is that what comes from the people
should go back to the people in manifold proportions.
It is very apt to quote late Jamsetji Tata as a concluding
do not claim to be more unselfish, more generous or more
philanthropic than other people. But we think we started
on sound and straightforward business principles, considering
the interests of the shareholders our own, and the health
and welfare of the employees the sure foundation of our
paper, titled Perspectives on International Labour
Standards, was presented by T Damu, vice-president
(corporate affairs - South), Indian Hotels Company, at
the Forum on Monitoring International Labour Standards:
Asia, organised by the US National Academies in Columbo,
Sri Lanka, on 5 and 6 March 2003. The views expressed
in this paper are that of the authors, and in no
way reflect the views of the organisations that he is