Indian laws have always recognized the workers’ right to strike. The Supreme Court of India has invariably maintained the “right to strike” as not a fundamental right, but a legal right that workers can exercise as part of collective bargaining, wage bargaining and dispute resolution. However, several court rulings have also been in opposition to the right to strike, be it by political parties or trade unions. Here are some pertinent landmark rulings.
Indian Laws: Key Court Rulings on the Right to Strike
Indian laws pertaining to the workers’ right to strike came through court judgments. Some favourable court rulings on the workers’ right to strike are: the Gujarat Steel Tubes v. Its Mazdoor Sabha AIR 1980 SC 1896, where the right to strike was held as integral to collective bargaining and as supported by social justice.
Also, in the B.R. Singh v. Union of India (v) case, the court ruled in favour of the striking party, and Justice Ahmadi said "The Trade Unions with sufficient membership strength are able to bargain more effectively with the management than individual workmen. The bargaining strength would be considerably reduced if it is not permitted to demonstrate by adopting agitational methods such as ‘work to rule’, ‘go-slow’, ‘absenteeism’, ‘sit-down strike’, and ‘strike’. This has been recognized by almost all democratic countries".
However, in another case, T.K. Rangarajan v. Government of Tamilnadu and Others (i), the right to strike was denied to government employees. The court held that government employees have no legal, moral or equitable right to strike, since it disrupts normal life and brings losses for the national economy. So, strike was directed as to b e utilized as the last option for dispute resolution. However, this court order was criticized and remained a debatable topic.
Indian Laws on Right to Strike as an Means of Collective Bargaining Process
There are many Indian laws pertaining to the right to strike but the above court rulings led to the creation of industrial legislation that support workers’ right to strike; the right to strike is considered an integral part of the industrial economy and is used in the collective bargaining process. Striking work is used as a means of negotiating with employers to fulfil worker demands and defend workers’ real wages. In a government setting too, when strikes affect the general public, authorities are forced to come to the negotiating table.
Constitution of India: Statutory Right and International Laws Pertaining to Right to Strike
Indian laws comprising sections 22, 23, and 24 of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 imply that industries, such as hospitals, government departments, educational institutions and clubs, have the right to strike. Strikes may be legal or illegal, based on the procedure for strike, and it is decided by the judiciary. The Trade Unions Act, 1926 also recognized the right to strike, with Sections 18 (xiii) and 19 (xiv) conferring immunity to trade unions from civil liability. The workers’ right to strike is balanced by employers’ right to lock-out.