Evaluating the Role of Arbitration in Industrial Disputes: Perspectives from the United States and India
While many may think of labor strikes as features of a more tumultuous American, and global, past, they persist into and dominate our most recent memories. Most laborers, regardless of where or in which field they worked, recall the GE strike of 2019, McDonalds strikes in the same year, and large Walmart strikes just a few years prior. In India, a similar story has played out with laborers from Toyota striking in 2019 along with 150 million laborers from all industries in the All-India General Strike.
Industrial disputes between laborers and their employers continue to escalate into strikes almost like clockwork: will this pattern ever end? If so, where are the effective solutions? Strangely, solutions can be found by comparing industrial arbitration in two countries, the United States and India, where industrial arbitration alone does not always lead to effective resolution of industrial disputes or the prevention of large-scale strikes. Each country’s industrial arbitration framework can be used to inform the other and create novel and effective solutions to strengthen industrial arbitration as a whole and prevent ongoing patterns of labor strikes.
Main improvements for both American and Indian industrial arbitration frameworks revolve around the interpretation of arbitration awards, and the grievance arbitration process within grander industrial arbitration procedures.
Scholars argue that in the United States, a contradiction between the drafting and final interpretation of industrial arbitration awards, known as collective bargaining agreements, exists and undermines any real resolution reached in arbitration between feuding parties. While parties enter and engage in arbitration under the understanding that the collective bargaining agreement is final and binding, they often include invisible clauses. These invisible clauses omit solutions to related disputes and leave room for a disagreement of interpretation from either or both parties. Invisible clauses are legally protected by the American Arbitration Association (A.A.A), and mean some parts of the collective bargaining agreement are voluntary. This further weakens the collective bargaining agreement, and industry arbitration as a whole.
India, on the other hand, has experimented with compulsory arbitration by mandating under the Bombay Industrial Relations Act of 1946 that any and all interpretation questions are resolved in a step-by-step process that is easily implemented on an ongoing basis, and incentivizes stronger, more compulsory solutions in initial collective bargaining agreements. Adapting and using India’s compulsory award methods in the United States and around the world would decrease the incidence of large-scale labor strikes by resolving industrial disputes through initial collective bargaining agreements and preventing future disputes.
Analyzing India’s industrial arbitration, scholars point out that laborers can only effectively enjoy contract or interest arbitration, dealing with their interests as laborers, and not rights or grievance arbitration which addresses fundamental worker rights.This fault occurs because of India’s Standing Orders laws which prevent previous collective bargaining agreements from being considered working legal contracts under labor court systems. Labor courts can only approve new awards which address 11 topics of worker interest and not any other solutions brought up in previous agreements.
In the United States, big industries rely on impartial umpireships, essentially a collection of permanent arbitrators, dedicated to companies like General Motors, John Deer Corporation, and many others. These upmireships facilitate and legitimize grievance arbitration and can be formed in India and other countries to expand upon worker rights, apply solutions in collective bargaining agreements broadly to other labor contexts, and, ultimately decrease labor strikes.
To conclude, the interpretation of arbitration awards and grievance arbitration procedures can both be improved upon globally to improve industrial relations and, hopefully, eliminate the need for labor strikes and continually unsatisfied workers.
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Grevatt, Martha. “All-India General Strike Is Largest in World History.” Workers World, 1 Jan. 2020, www.workers.org/2019/01/40392/.
Hanton, Alex. “Top 10 Famous Strikes in Recent History.” Listverse, Listverse, 18 June 2014, listverse.com/2011/11/17/top-10-famous-strikes-in-recent-history/.
Raman, R. A. V. (1963). Mediation, conciliation and arbitration, U.S.A. and India: A comparative study. Bombay: Popular Prakashan.
“Toyota Workers in India Continue Strike, Defy State Back-to-Work Order.” World Socialist Web Site, www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/11/20/toyo-n20.html.
By Scarlett Kaufusi (ILR)
Work plays a major part in people’s everyday lives. Thus, I’m extremely interested and passionate about ensuring equal treatment for laborers and resolving conflicts effectively. I’ve pursued this passion through my participation in the Scheinman Conflict Resolution Club and will continue to do so with a future career in HR. Work being such an integral part of people’s lives means that workplace disputes, on small and large scales, are prolific. When workplace disputes escalate into strikes, collective bargaining has arguably failed and there are fewer solutions for resolving these prolific disputes. I was interested in comparing the country contexts of the United States and India to learn from vastly different approaches to resolving conflicts and through that comparison evaluate better ways to end the cycle of escalation.