All that you need to know about Trade Unions in India

Trade unions in India emerged as a representative of workers and the working class. Workers have worked hard to secure an acceptable level of protection against exploitation over the years. With the emergence of modern industrial establishments and with the increasing number of workers, trade unions have expanded. Trade unions empower workers with low negotiating power.

A continuing association of wage earners was formed to sustain and improve their working conditions. A long-term continuous association of employees was created and maintained for furthering and safeguarding members’ interests in their working relationship.

A trade union is any temporary or permanent association mainly created to control the relationship between employers and workers, or between workers and workers, or between employers and employers, or for putting restrictive rules on the conduct of any trade or business. A trade union is a tool for defending against exploitation and providing a platform for gathering the forces of the working class.

History of Trade Unions in India

Trade unions in India emerged due to large-scale industrial development rather than from any of society’s established structures. N.M. Lokhande created the Bombay Mill-Hands Association in 1890, which was India’s first labour organisation. B.P. Wadia formed the Madras Labour Union, the first legally registered trade union, in 1918.

The All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) was created in 1920 after the International Labour Organization raised concerns about the impact of any trade union in the country that was not under the control and authority of major political parties.

Many commissions established during the colonial era emphasised the establishment of trade unions in India. For example,

The Royal Commission on Labour or Whitley Commission on Labour established in 1929-30 recommended:

  • The issues that caused the growth of modern industrialisation in India are similar to the problems created elsewhere in the world, and
  • The only remedy for these problems is the formation of strong trade unions to relieve labourers from their terrible and hard conditions.

Functions of Trade Unions in India

Militant Functions

  • To raise salaries and improve working conditions.
  • To elevate the status of workers as a component of the industry.
  • To defend workers from victimisation and injustice

Functions of Fraternity

  • To implement welfare initiatives to boost worker morale
  • To instil self-assurance in employees.
  • Encourage employees’ sincerity and discipline.
  • To offer possibilities for advancement and growth
  • To protect female workers from discrimination

Problems faced by Trade Unions in India

Problems faced by Trade Unions in India currently are as follows:

  • Uneven growth
  • Limited membership
  • Financial issues
  • Presence of many unions in the same area
  • Workers’ indifference
  • Poor leadership by union leaders
  • Illiteracy among employees
  • Rivalry between unions

Trade unions in India

India currently has 12 major unions recognised as central trade union organisations:

  1. Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS)
  2. Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC)
  3. All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC)
  4. Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS)
  5. Centre of India Trade Unions (CITU)
  6. All India United Trades Union Centre (AIUTUC)
  7. Trade Union Coordination Centre (TUCC)
  8. Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA)
  9. All India Central Council of Trade Union (AICCTU)
  10. Labour Progressive Federation (LPF)
  11. United Trade Union Congress (UTUC)
  12. National Front of Indian Trade Unions (NFITU)

India’s Trade Union Law Development

India’s labour legislation strives to achieve social fairness in the country. External and domestic causes have propelled the growth of labour regulation in India.

External reasons include the founding of the International Labour Organization. Internal factors include The Swaraj movement of 1921-24 and the royal commission on labour, which prepared the way for different labour regulations and persuaded the constitution’s writers to include such rules in the constitution that would benefit the writers’ workers.

Labour is a concurrent list issue under the constitution, and both the centre and the states can create laws on the subject.

Different labour laws in India are as follows:

  • Apprentices Act, 1961
  • Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970
  • Employees’ provident funds and misc. Provision Act, 1952
  • Factories Act, 1948
  • Minimum wages Act, 1948
  • Trade Union Act, 1926

The Trade Union Act, 1926

The Trade Union Act, also known as the Indian Trade Union Act, was enacted in 1926 and went into effect on June 1, 1927, following a publication in the Official Gazette by the Central Government. The Act was amended three times: in 1947, 1960, and 1962. Following that, the word ‘Indian’ was removed from the amended Act of 1964, which went into effect on April 1, 1965. Then in 1982, the Trade Unions (Amendment) Act was passed.

Any combination of two or more Trade Unions, permanently or temporarily, mainly formed to maintain a good relationship between;

  • Workmen and employers,
  • Workmen and workmen, or
  • Employers and employers,

or to set restrictive rules on the conduct of any trade or business, according to Section 2 (h) of the Trade Union Act of 1926.

Objectives of The Trade Union Act, 1926

The Act was adopted to provide for the registration of trade unions and the verification of the membership of registered trade unions for them to have legal and corporate status. As soon as a trade union gets registered, it is considered an artificial person by the law, capable of exercising rights.

Provisions of the Trade Union Act, 1926

The following are the essential provisions to be followed by the trade unions in India:

Section 3: Appointment of Registrars

Each state’s appropriate government has the authority to appoint a Registrar of Trade Unions. It also has the authority to appoint Additional and Deputy Trade Union Registrars.

Section 4: Registration Mode

Any Trade Union with seven or more members may apply for registration under this Act:

  • by submitting their names to the Trade Union’s guidelines
  • by adhering to the rules of this Act about registration.

Section 5: Registration Application

A Trade Union registration application must be presented to the Registrar and must get accompanied by the following documents:

  • a copy of the Trade Union’s rules;
  • Statement of the following facts:
    • Names, addresses, and occupations of the members applying.
    • The Trade Union’s name and the location of its headquarters.

Before submitting an application for registration, a Trade Union that has been in existence for more than one year must present a statement of its assets and liabilities.

Section 6: Provisions necessarily to be mentioned in the rules of a Trade Union

A Trade Union must not be eligible for registration under this Act unless its executive body gets formed in conformity with the provisions of this Act and its rules include the following provisions:

  • the Trade Union’s name;
  • the purpose for which the Trade Union was formed; and
  • the purposes to which the Trade Union’s general finances shall get allocated.

Sections 8 and 9: Registration

When the Registrar is satisfied that the Union has met all of the registration requirements of this Act, he or she shall register the Trade Union and provide a certificate of registration to it.

The Registrar may not refuse to register a Trade Union if the application meets the technical requirements outlined in this Act.

Section 10: Registration Cancellation

A Trade Union’s registration certificate may be revoked or cancelled:

  • In response to the concerned Trade Union’s application;
  • If the Registrar is satisfied that the certificate includes fraud or error.

Section 12: Registered address

All messages and notices to a registered Trade Union should be sent to its registered office. Any change in the address of the head office must get communicated to the Registrar in writing within fourteen days of the change.

Section 13: Every legally recognised trade union

  • It will have its legal existence and get referred by the name it gets registered.
  • It should have a common seal and perpetual succession.
  • Has the authority to purchase and hold both movable and immovable property.
  • Can be both; sue or sued.

Section 15: Purposes for which general funds may be used:

  • Payment of wages, allowances, and expenses to office bearers, administrative expenses, and reimbursement to members for losses incurred as a result of trade disputes;
  • Allowances for members or their dependents due to death, old age, sickness, accidents, or unemployment;
  • Provision of educational, social, or religious benefits to members or members’ dependents;
  • Maintenance of a journal published to debate issues affecting employers or workers;
  • Any other object is notified in the Official Gazette by the appropriate government.

Section 18: Civil suit immunity in certain instances

No action or other legal process shall be brought in any Civil Court against any registered Trade Union or its member for any conduct in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute in which such member or the trade union is a party.

Section 27: Liquidation

When a registered trade union is dissolved, the registrar must receive a notice of dissolution signed by seven members and the Trade Union Secretary within 14 days of the dissolution.

Rights and Liabilities for Trade Unions in India

The following are the rights and liabilities under the act for trade unions in India:

  • Objects that can be purchased with general funds
  • Establishment of a special fund for political objectives
  • Criminal collusion in a trade dispute
  • In certain circumstances, you may be immune from civil suits.
  • Agreements’ enforceability
  • The right to see a trade union’s books
  • Minors have the right to join trade unions.

Case Study

Hotel Oberoi Case

The hotel staff used to earn 65 days of vacation per year, but the management sought to cut it by 15 days due to some administrative concerns. The workers strongly opposed the idea, and Maharashtra Samarth Kamgar Sanghatna was tasked with resolving the issue. MSKS recognised the workers’ predicament and approached management to agree through collective bargaining.

Maharashtra Samarth Kamgar Sanghatna promised to persuade the workers in exchange for management agreeing to provide 20 days’ extra pay in December. The management and employees discussed the matter. The management discovered that they had the workers working for an additional 15 days, and the workers found that they were getting paid for 20 days for only 15 days of extra work. Both parties agreed. Thus, MSKS successfully achieved a win-win situation through collective bargaining.


Trade unions in India fight not only for the needs of workers and improvements in their working circumstances but also for the larger good of the country on the premise that what is good for the country is also good for labour.

The Trade Union Act 1926 is welfare legislation established to protect workers in organised and unorganised sectors from inhumane treatment and protect their human rights. As a result, trade union registration, regulation, benefits, and protection are all included in the act. Trade unions in India have become powerful pressure groups in the industrial sector and the agricultural and other associated sectors due to the increase in media.


When was the Trade Union Act enacted?

TheTrade Union Act was enacted In 1926.

How many times was the Trade Union Act amended?

The Trade Union Act was amended three times in 1947, 1960, and 1962.

Which is the biggest trade union in India right now?

Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh is the biggest trade union in India.