Thursday, 2 December, 2021

Trend of Industrial Disputes for Disposal

  • Professor Dr. Md. Abu Taher
  • 21 September, 2021 12:00 AM
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Trend of Industrial Disputes for Disposal
Professor Dr. Md. Abu Taher

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Industrial disputes are the necessary concomitants of industrialisation and common phenomena in industrial life. It arises out of difference among the ‘actors’ on several issues, the most conspicuous of which are ‘substantive matters. The presence of any dispute normally acts as an impediment to the development of sound and harmonious relations between labour and management, and also puts further off the possibility of a so-called permanent industrial peace in any society that allows labour exploitation. In advanced capitalist societies where labour exploitation is less marked, the low number of industrial disputes has helped in the steady growth of industrialisation.

Any difference between workers and employers with regard to terms of employment may result in industrial disputes. Disputes over various economic and non-economic issues between employers and workers are the common features of industrial society. Disputes have both positive and negative effects on the industrial organisation. Disputes can be positive when it encourages innovation and creativity of individual, the clarification of points of view and the development of human capabilities to take decision in resolving conflict. On the other hand, it can be negative when it creates resistance to change, create turmoil situation in industry, foster distrust and misunderstanding between labour and management. If the disputes arise and are not settled properly, it will lead to go slow, disinterest, work tardiness, increased labour turnover, absenteeism and, in extreme cases, it might lead to strike, lockout, hartal, picketing and so on. So, it is a duty of the management to resolve the disputes when it arises in their industrial organisations before they escalate into a destructive activity.

The indicators used for measuring the trend of industrial disputes are mainly the number of disputes, the number of man-days lost and the number of workers involved in the dispute. Some analysts also determine the curve by such phenomena as the number of disputes referred to the industrial relations machinery (collective bargaining), the number of disputes failed at the conciliation stage, the number of disputes referred to arbitration as well as adjudication over a period of time.

Industrial disputes may be classified into four categories for the purpose of analysis— (i) disputes not involving stoppage of work; (ii) disputes involving stoppage of work; (iii) disputes taken to the labour court; and (iv) disputes filed with the labour appellate tribunal (LAT). Table-1 shows the said classification of industrial disputes in Bangladesh over a period of time.

The important feature of disputes is that no uniform and regular upward or downward trend is discernible. The industry-wise study of disputes shows that the majority of the disputes were in the formal organised sector like Jute Textile and Garments Industry.

For assessing the extent of workers participation and involvement in industrial disputes, four criteria/ratio have been adopted: (i) Dispute Duration Ratio (DDR), referring to the number of man-days lost per worker involved in industrial disputes; (ii) Dispute Coverage Ratio (DCR), termed as the number of workers involved in industrial disputes per strike; (iii) Time Loss Ratio (TLR), defined as the number of man-days lost per industrial dispute (strike); and (iv) Membership Involvement Ratio (MIR), defined as the portion of the total number of members of the country’s trade unions involved in industrial disputes. The data on these measures (DDR, DCR, TLR, MIR) shows the unsystematic behaviour and an erratic trend of workers’ participation and involvement in industrial disputes.

The root cause of industrial disputes is the conflicting interests of employers and employees. Employers always try to maximise profits by giving the workers less than what they deserved. The workers create a surplus value that helps the formation of capital of the employing class. The workers, through their unions, demand wage enhancement and other benefits. This keeps the two parties always in a conflicting situation.

The assertion that the disputes had occurred due to political reasons is not true. Virtually most of the industrial disputes in Bangladesh occur due to economic causes, although many of them end up politically. Usually CBAs or worker’s representatives place their charter of demands and try to reach an agreement with the management as per laws. When the workers fail to press home their demands, they seek help from political parties in order to reinforce their bargaining power.

The dispute settlement system in Bangladesh is characterised by the ladder-step system, i.e. moving towards from step to the other in a specified sequence with apparently demonstrates that the government is committed to solving industrial disputes rapidly. But, in practice, the different measures of the government and improper execution of legal provisions considerably interrupt the effective use of dispute settlement methods. Sometimes industrial disputes are handled by employers with the support of other agencies of the state to lash and coerce the workers into compliance. As a result, an unhealthy situation prevails in the field of industrial relations in Bangladesh.

The present democratic government under the dynamic leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is expected to come up with measures that might hopefully pave the way for proper execution of labour laws for better industrial relations in the country. However, the possibility of improved industrial relations in the country will remain a distant dream unless industrial disputes are settled through mutual trust, confidence and discussion between labours and management at workplace.


The writer is a Member, University Grants Commission of Bangladesh and Director, Board of Directors, Jibon Bima Corporation, Dhaka