Trade Unions and Industrial Relations in
Public Sector Undertakings of Kerala


Dr. Unnikrishnan T
Manager (Technical)
KINFRA International Apparel Park
Kazhakkuttom, Trivandrum, Kerala

It is time to unlearn the lessons we have already bye-hearted on industrial relations. This is the message we get on a detailed study on Industrial relations in the public sector undertakings of the Kerala. The theories of better wages and working conditions are getting side lined and newer concepts are being put into lime light.

"Industrial Relations" is defined as "The Relations between Employers and Employees in Industry". Public enterprise means an activity of a business character owned and managed by the Government; Central, State or local, providing goods and services for a price. Public sector undertaking is statutorily an autonomous institution and responsible to the public through Government and Parliament.

Since independence, the significance of the public sector as an employer and as an investor was growing in India. Prior to 1947, public sector investment was limited to the railways, post and telegraph department, ordinance, factories and a few state managed factories. With the inception of five year plans, the public sector began to spread its control over the economic sphere. With the Industrial Policy Resolutions of 1948 and 1956 the public sector has been assigned to specific role of bringing about rapid industrialisation of India. Various investments in the public sector, such as for irrigation, power and transport, for instance, increase the production potential of the private sector and the producers or enterprises concerned can be expected to take advantage of these facilities. The main aim of the public sector was not profit, but public service. Moreover, the profits made by the public enterprises are utilised towards financing the economic development of the country. Thus the purpose for which an industry in the public sector is set up is primarily the welfare both for the workers and for the society.

There are 104 Government companies and Nine statutory corporations in Kerala at the end of March, 2005. Government's investment in these Public Sector enterprises (PSE) amounted to Rs. 18875.25 Crores as on 31.03.2005. the interesting factor is that more than 70 % of the investment is in five enterprises. The 113 units in the public sector in Kerala provides employment to 1, 11,249 persons as on 30-3-2005. Again 57 % of the employment generated is by the 4 enterprises. These data shows that the Public sector in Kerala is contributing much to the economy of the State. Even though this is the fact, many of the undertakings are either closed or sick. Many fingers are pointed towards the militancy of the trade unions. The western media has also given wide publicity that Kerala is not an Investor friendly state.

Of course Kerala was a fertile soil for the trade union movement to grow due to the exploitations of certain class during the early 1950s. As emphasised by Frederic Engels, "The working class did not rise like the sun at an appointed time. It was present at it's own making. There were tailors here and weavers there and together they makeup the working class". The rise of working class has been beneficiated by the works or cultural activists and poets. In the southern tip of the Asiatic continent (God's own Country), our beloved poet sang, "I will not love the philosophy that does not love an ailing soul". To him socialism was the nectar descends from the Himalayan heights of human sympathy and understanding.

The fertile soil of Kerala has contributed much to the development of trade unionism and in turn has created some avoidable situations in the industrial scenario. In the early 70s and 80s, there were many industrial conflicts and many factories were either locked out or closed down. These also led to the pointing of fingers towards trade unionism. Hence it is evident that a harmony is required among the trade unions and the enterprises for a smooth co-existence and mutual growth. Researchers have found out that the following are the reasons for poor industrial relation.

a. mental inertia on the part of management and labour;
b. an intolerant attitude of contempt towards the workers on the part of management;
c. inadequate fixation of wage or wage structure;
d. unhealthy working conditions;
e. indiscipline;
f. lack of human relations skill on the part of supervisors and other managers;
g. desire on the part of the workers for higher bonus or D.A. and the corresponding desire of the employers to give as little as possible;
h. inappropriate introduction of automation without providing the right climate

The conflict is to be found out in the initial stages and resolved. On non settlement of the issues at the root cause, the issue may get enlarged and goes off from the hands. This creates an image in the minds of people and this image projects Kerala labour as irrational in its demand, in-disciplined in its behaviour and volatile in its temperament. Against the present belief that the trade unions are contributing to industrial sickness, it was identified in the study conducted in the major public sector undertakings of the state, that the major reason for the industrial unrest is the delay in dispute settlement and the policies of government and the respective enterprises. The main motive of workers for joining the trade union is political and second motive was the type of organization. Economic interest of the workers and promotion of the ideology of the union was believed to be the main objective of the trade unions. It is noted that as the level of education increases the economic interest of workers is getting reduced. Irrespective of the sector and age the workers were happy with there present trade union activities. The requirement of personal traits in union leadership was confirmed by all classifications. Political back up was a catalytic factor in the growth of trade unions. The major threat for the trade union is the multi unionism. Negligence of management in labour affairs is a key factor for high industrial disputes. Delay in dispute settlement was the second main cause for the same. Even judicial power may be deligated to the labour authorities like District Labour Officer for implementation of decisions. Government Policies play a major role in determining the militancy of the unionism.

The opinion among the workers is steady among workers with different educational qualification and organization. Thus the most important factor that influences the attitude and determines the Industrial relations is the level of working, trade union affiliation and the regularity in attending union meeting. So thrust is to be given in the key areas that are influencing the attitude of the workers. Trade union leaders may be taken into confidence since they are the most influential persons in the life of a worker. Production and profit is multi variant and no blame can be put on a single factor of production. It is to be noted that personnel relations is the primary thing in any industry and if one fail in it, unrest is certain.

The key factors for a better Industrial relations is creation of mutual trust, speedy settlement of industrial conflicts, identification of conflict in the grass root level, participation in decision making. The major external factor is the government policies. It can be seen that the unrest in the industry is minimum since the policy of the government have changed and it is pro-industry. Like wise a radical change in the minds of employees, employer, public and government can remove the conflict and unrest from the industrial area.


1. Andrew J. Taylor, Trade Unions and Politics: A Comparative Introduction, (London: Macmillan, 1959).

2. Angels, Frederick, The Conditions of the Working Class in England, (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1973).

3. Balaram, N.E., Keralathile Communist Prasthanathinte Charithram (Mal.) (Trivandrum: Prabhath, 1979)

4. Dange, S.A., Origins of Trade Union Movement in India, (New Delhi, AITUC, 1973).

5. Giri, V.V., Labour Problem in Indian Industry, (Bombay: Asia Publishing House, 1958).

6. Karnik, V.B., Indian Trade Unions: A Survey, (Bombay: Manaktalas & Sons, 1966).

7. Nair, K. Ramachandran, Industrial Relations in Kerala (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers, 1975).

8. Nossiter, T.J., Communism in Kerala, (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1982).

9. Rajan, K.R., Keralathile Vyavasayangal (Mal.) (Trivandrum: Kerala Bhasha Institute, 1987).

10. Ramaswami, E.A., The Worker and His Union: A Study in South Asia, (Bombay: Allied Publishers, 1977).

Frederic Engels, The Conditions of Working Class in England, (Moscow: Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1973), p. 252
2. Vayalar Rama Varma, "Manishada" Mulamkadu, Vayalar Kavithakal (Mal.) (Kottayam: SPCS; 1984), p. 387

Dr. Unnikrishnan T
Manager (Technical)
KINFRA International Apparel Park
Kazhakkuttom, Trivandrum, Kerala

Source: E-mail June 25, 2007 / July 4, 2013



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