Trade Unions – Definition, Characteristics, Need, Nature and Purpose

The trade union is an association, either of employees or employers or of independent workers. It is a relatively permanent combination of workers and is not temporary or casual. It is an association of workers engaged in securing economic benefits for its members.

According to Section 2(b) of the Trade Unions Act of 1926, “a trade union is any combination of persons, whether temporary or permanent, primarily for the purpose of regulating the relations between workers and employers, or between workers and workers and for imposing restrictive conditions on the conduct on the conduct of any trade or business, and includes the federation of two or more trade unions.”

Trade Unions

Characteristics of  Trade Unions

  1. Association of employees: A trade union is essentially an association of employees belonging to a particular class of employment, profession, trade or industry. For example, there are unions for teachers, doctors, film, artistes, weavers, mine workers and so on.
  2. Voluntary Association: An employee joins the trade union out of his free will. A person cannot be compelled to join a union.
  3. Permanent Body: A trade union is usually a permanent body. Members may come and go but the trade union remains.
  4. Common Interest: The member of a trade union have certain matters of common interest-job security, better pay and working conditions and so on, which bring them together.
  5. Collective Action: Even when an individual employee has any grievance over certain management decisions, the matter is sorted out by the intervention of the trade union Employees are able to initiate collective action to solve any problem concerning any particular employee or all the employees.
  6. Rapport with the Management: The trade union seeks to improve relations between the employees and employers. The officials of the trade union hold talks with the members of the management concerning the problems of the employees in order to find an amicable solution. It is thus possible for the employees to have better rapport with the management.

Need for Trade Unions

Workers join trade unions to achieve certain objectives that they may not be able to achieve in their personal capacity. Trade unions are necessary.

  • To ensure job security and right pay for the members: One of the basic needs of any employee is security of service. The main reason why an employee joins a union is to get him secured. Apart from job security and employees need to get pay commensurate with their qualifications and skills. Trade unions strive to get both job security and correct pay for all employees.
  • To ventilate the grievances of employees to the management: When the employees in general or some in particular have any grievance, they may not be able to convey the same to the management in their personal capacity. Such grievances may be brought to the knowledge of the management through the trade union. The members of the management may be indifferent to the demands of the individual employees but they cannot be so when it comes to union demands.

Nature and Scope of  Trade Unions

The employer’s association or professional bodies were not included in any of the above definitions. The employee’s unions are different from that of the employers or professional bodies. The employee’s unions are primarily concerned with the terms and conditions of employment of their members. The employer’s associations on the other hand are concerned among other things with influencing the terms of purchase of services in favour of their members. Hence, the two should not be placed in one category. The associations of professional members also differ fundamentally from employees unions. Professional associations include self employed as well as the employees where as trade unions consist only of the people who are employed by others. In India the term Trade Union refers besides employee’s organizations to employers association also. Similarly in Britain, even the associations of professional people such as Artists Federation or Musicians Unions are also recognized as Trade Unions.

Thus trade unions are a major component of the modern industrial relation system. A trade union of workers is an organization formed by workers to protect their interests. i.e. improve their working conditions etc. All trade unions have objectives or goals to achieve, which are contained in their constitution and each has its own strategy to reach those goals.

Trade Unions are now considered a sub-system which seeks to serve the specific sub-groups interest and also considers itself a part of the organization, in terms of the latter’s viability and contribution to the growth of the community of which it is a part.

Purpose of Trade Unions

Trade unions came into being for a variety of purposes. Individual workers found it more advantageous to band together and seek to establish their terms and conditions of employments. They realized that if they bargained as individuals, the employer would have a better leverage, for an individual would not matter as much as a group in terms of the running of the enterprise. A group’s contribution is much larger than an individual’s so are the effects of its withdrawal. An individual may not be able to organize and defend his interests as well as a group can. Therefore workers saw the advantages of organizing themselves into groups to improve their terms and conditions of employment. Employers also found it advantageous to deal with a group or a representative of a group rather than go through the process of dealing with each individual over a length of time. Precisely, the major objectives of trade union are the following:

  • Better wages
  • Better working conditions
  • Protection against exploitation
  • Protection against victimization
  • Provide welfare measures
  • Promote industrial peace
  • Take up Collective Bargaining
  • Look after the interest of trade

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