Strategies under Labour Laws in India to Deal with Industrial Violence

There cannot be a single solution or a lone strategy to deal with violence. Violence has rarely taken place instantly. Instant provocation may lead to violence but the analysis of industrial violence in industry for last two years will reveal that violence was mainly due to pendency of issues for a long time. A Multi-layered strategy that would address the structural causes of violence need to be framed.

One must;

1. Analyse the reasons for violence.

2. Create awareness about consequences of violence and impact of violence on one’s own life. In a certain Company, a person who was acquitted by a local Court on charges of murder was invited as a speaker to address workers as part of a training programme. The speaker though was acquitted, explained in detail how his family had suffered when he was in police custody and the mental torture that he and his family were put through. The entire process of his trial was explained with the perspectives of all involved in the process, the Police, Judiciary, lawyers etc. It acted as an was eye opener. Whether such an interaction will help or not depends on various factors. But, in the case in question it did help.

3. Collect data and carry out data analysis, reliable data on approach of employees towards problems, data on magnitude of the problem will always help.

4. Make an early identification of trouble makers /groups and individuals would serve towards prevention of violence.

5. Survey by psychologist to determine moral level can also help.

6. A simple step like placing a private detective in the factory as part of contract labour deployment helps the company to understand the state of affairs.

Of late violence has not only increased quantitatively but has also become increasingly brutal. The trend is to attack people, often fatally, rather than damaging property.

Sociologists attribute industrial violence to high levels of frustration due to pendency of disputes for a long time which becomes a sort of justification for violence. In a recent case, where a Chief Executive Officer was murdered in North India, detailed analysis of the issue when carried out revealed that issues were pending for six months! The striking workers were humiliated. Even a final settlement was decided to be signed and drafts were exchanged. At the last minute, the management turned its back on the understanding and insisted that individual workers write an undertaking that employment misconduct was committed by them. This incensed the workers and what happened subsequently is known to all.

The right to demonstrate/picketing is considered legitimate. However, this results in conflict between those who are in favour of picketing and those who are not. In such a scenario, usually, aggression added to the already existing frustration in the minds of employees leads to violence. Trade Unions and Political Parties in order to fuel this struggle always take recourse to provocative speeches which are more than welcome in such delicate and volatile situations. Workers sometimes think that violence can make their cause stronger. They are often told that in order to drive home their point better with the Management, violence is a better tool than negotiation. Unity is sometimes forged by violent means. Such a forged unity with frustration running high due to social issues with aggression and provocation leads to violence.

During a strike or period of industrial unrest, it is always necessary to provide a platform to ventilate anger and frustration in. A simple step like shifting representatives of the Management in the course of negotiations may help, if the same team is negotiating on behalf of the Management, the workers strongly believe that the negotiators are responsible for failure and are made targets when parties fail to arrive at a settlement.

A high cost of living, unrestrained inflation and failure of wages to keep pace with the rising costs substantially heighten frustration with respect to wage disputes. Such frustration is compounded when the management adopts delay tactics. The frustration shoots up when the Government machinery fails to provide support. In such a scenario, frustration levels are dangerously high; fear of losing job adds stress and anxiety and any step by the Management or by the Government agencies such as arrest by Police or an adverse judgment by the Courts or dilatory tactics/ evasive replies by Management finally erupts into violence.

Let us now consider the case of a spinning mill;

Let’s say, the mill is around 15 years old and the average workers are in the age group of 25 to 40 years. Negotiations for wage revision at the mill have been going on for a while. The Management of the mill had encouraged leadership from the company in the past, they went out of the way to ensure that outside trade union leaders were kept out of the factory.

Internal leadership was not effective. The expectations of workers were very high owing to high inflation and increase in domestic requirements due to family obligations etc. They were made to believe that work stoppage would affect the company. The workers thought that work stoppage would bring quick solutions, so a strike was called and there were incidents of indiscipline and employment misconduct. The Management was upset with the strike and thought that employee disciplinary action and suspension of a few trouble makers would bring an end to the strike quickly. However, the suspension proved to be counter productive and the strike prolonged. When the police department informed the strikers that no militancy would be tolerated, it was perceived by the workers as cooperation between Police and the Employers and resulted in increased anger and frustration. Thereafter, the internal union approached the Management through local politicians. However, the Management refused to recognize local politicians to avoid regular political interference. Vexed by this, the antagonized politicians provided more fuel to the fire.

Finally, a meeting was held between the Management and the union, arranged by the Government machinery. Senior Government officers gave special time to resolve the dispute. On the other hand, due to prolonged strike, frustration levels were very high. The meeting was concluded without anything and the participating Management representatives closed the negotiations by informing all present that they will come back after having a word with the top Management. The workers representatives as well as Government officers insisted on having an immediate dialogue on the phone. However, the Management insisted on postponing meeting by one week. The meeting was called off and the Management team was assaulted by the striking employees outside the premises. This is first hand information about a recent case.

Violence in industry has its own causes. It is easy to blame workers, however, the realities are different.

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