Graphic: Subrata Jana/Mint
Graphic: Subrata Jana/Mint

Industrial strikes and lockouts see steep decline in India

Number of strikes between 2003 and 2014 has fallen 75%, person-days of work lost down almost 90%

New Delhi: The trade unions are all set for a nationwide strike on Wednesday but the country in general seems to be moving away from industrial disputes, strikes and lockouts, according to the labour ministry data.

Between 2003 and 2014, the number of strikes and lockouts has fallen by nearly three-fourth, the data shows. In 2003, Indian industries saw 552 strikes and lockouts, but in 2014, the number fell to 143.

The fall in such incidents have been steep since 2012. In 2012, 447 strikes and lockouts were reported but fell to 143 in 2014.

The number of workers striking work is dwindling as well. In 2003, 1.81 million organized sector workers struck work, but in 2014, it was down to one million.

In the same period, the number of person-days of work lost has dwindled from 30.25 million in 2003 to 3.63 million in 2014, the ministry data shows.

In the first four months of 2015, India saw 40 strikes and lockouts as against 53 in the same period in 2014 and 121 in 2013.

While trade unions are blaming the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government that came to power in May 2014 as anti-labour, it is not supported by data, a ministry official said on condition of anonymity.

A.K. Padmanabhan, president of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, a national labour union affiliated to the Communist Party of India (Marxist), disagreed.

NDA’s policy is pro-corporate, he said, adding that government data in many instances are incorrect. Since coming to power, the NDA has been trying to curtail the freedom of workers and their collective bargaining power, Padmanabhan said.

“We in government do not believe in confrontation," labour minister Bandaru Dattatreya said on Tuesday. “We are in favour of industries and workers working towards mutual benefits," Dattatreya said, while appealing to trade unions to not go on strike.

P.P. Mitra, principal labour and employment advisor in the ministry, said the decreasing industrial disputes number is an indication of better industrial relation. He said industries seems to have realized that they can avoid such incidents by engaging fruitfully with their own employees.

On Monday, 10 central labour unions and their state counterparts said more than 150 million workers will strike work on Wednesday to protest against the labour reform policies pursued by the government. The nationwide strike is expected to hit a range of services from banking to transport, coal production and manufacturing.

“The demand for consultation around proposed legislative changes is valid—however, strike cannot be the response. Impact for the moment might be low but it creates a long tail of apprehensions in the mind of global investors," said Rituparna Chakraborty, senior vice-president, TeamLease Services Pvt. Ltd.

Strikes, closures and unrest have been rated as the second biggest risk, after “corruption, bribery and corporate frauds" in 2014 and continue to command serious concern from companies in India, according to the India Risk Survey 2014 published by lobby group Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) and risk analysis firm Pinkerton.

In India, companies and businesses continue to suffer losses worth millions of rupees due to strikes, closures and unrest every year. The unwillingness of a company’s management to open negotiations with aggrieved workers and trade unions often results in industrial strikes, the report said.

In July 2012, violence and subsequent strike in car maker Maruti Suzuki India Ltd’s Manesar factory in Haryana cost the company 100 crore and resulted in the decline of its operations. In February 2013, strike at auto maker Mahindra and Mahindra’s Igatpuri (Maharashtra) plant affected its passenger car sales growth, as per the survey report.

“The corporate sector in India also suffers losses from closures or bandhs, either at the state level or at the national level," the report said. “The state of Andhra Pradesh suffered revenue losses of over 8 billion due to closures that took place soon after the central government gave approval for the creation of a separate State of Telangana."

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