After reading this article you will learn about the growth of employees’ unions in various countries.
In Britain an Act of 1871 had although legalized trade unions, yet in the field of civil service associational activity was sporadic in character for a long time after that. There were only a few staff associations, mainly in the Post Office and the Admiralty. In the administrative branches of the service, there hardly existed any.
In 1906, a new policy announcement was made whereby it was promised to recognize any properly constituted association.
This announcement encouraged the formation of service associations. In 1916, the British Government set up a committee under the chairmanship of Rt. Hon’ble J.H. Whitley, M.P., to make and to consider suggestions for securing a permanent improvement in the relations between employers and workers in private industry. In 1919, the scheme suggested by Whitley was applied to the sphere of civil services.
Now there are Whitley Councils in each of the Government departments consisting of equal number of representatives of the subordinate staff carrying remuneration only up to £700 a year in those years and the supervisory and directing officers.
In the United States, the public and the authorities did not favour for a long time the unionization of the services. In the New York City in 1888 a local association of the postal clerks was formed, but its officials were dismissed from the service and it suffered from the unbounded hostility of the local postmaster.
It was in 1912 that legal barriers to the formation of associations were considerably increased. Individuals now seek protection of their interests through group action.
In France it was in 1884 that the right to form associations was conceded to the workers in some trades. Officials were forbidden to form unions. In 1894 the ban was relaxed and postal employees and teachers organized themselves into associations. In 1901, civil servants also were given the right of association.
The postal strikes of 1906 and 1909 stiffened the attitudes of the authorities towards employees associations and the attitude remained so till World War (I), but the constitution of the Fourth Republic fully conceded the right to organize and even to strike to the civil servants.
In India, the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants of India and Burma formed in 1897 is the earliest known association of public employees which was formed by the Anglo- Indians and domiciled Europeans employed on the railways.
However it was more of a friendly group than an association for seeking redress of grievances. It was after the World War (I) that trade union movement in the western sense began to appear.
In 1922, the All-India Railway men’s Federation was formed and soon after postal and telegraph employees unions came into existence. These unions were recognized by the Railway Board and the Director-General of Posts and Telegraph in India, respectively.
The Trade Unions Act of 1926 accorded a legal status to the Trade Unions and their activities. Thereafter associations were formed in many other branches of the services.
The Constitution of free India conferred on ‘all citizens’ the fundamental right to freedom of association. This right, however is subject to ‘reasonable restrictions’ imposed by the State. There are quite a large number of associations in India organized on all kinds of bases—All-India, State, Local, Departmental and even office wise.
The list of associations and unions of the government employees of various grades, which gave evidence before the Central Pay Commission, constitute no fewer than twelve closely printed pages of its report.
To quote a few examples of All-India unions. All-India Railway men’s Federation, All- India Defence Employees’ Federation, National Federation of the Posts and Telegraphs Employees, the Federation of Central Secretariat and Allied Offices’ Employees are some of the top unions in India at the Central level.
Advantages of Unions:
(1) Unions create esprit de corps in the service.
(2) They build up the morale of the employees as they feel strengthened in a collective capacity.
(3) They prevent abuses on the part of government’s directing heads and safeguard the merit system.
(4) They develop a sense of participation in the personnel management through the unions. They feel that their voice is being counted.
(5) They enable employees to get fair deal at the hands of the Government. In the words of Milton M. Mendel, “Unions keep management alert since slipshod administrative practices will be exposed quickly. They offer a more efficient method for bringing some of the ideas of the employees to the attention of the head of the agency than even the best organised staff meetings”.
Finally the participation of employees in management planning is desirable for any organisation. A union can indeed make continuing gains for its members.