22 Grievance

Learning Objectives

After completing this session, you will be able to:

  • define  and describe the concept of grievance.

Meaning of

In common usage the word ‘grievance’ denotes something that one thinks is unfair and that one complaints or protests about. In industrial relations and human resource management, the word is mainly used in the context of ‘grievance procedure’ which has acquired considerable significance as grievances not properly handled may lead to wider forms of confrontation. Grievance procedure constitutes an integral part of overwhelming number of collective agreements in the United States. Meaning of Grievance It will be relevant here to quote a few scholars who have tried to explain the connotation of the term. According to Michael J. Julius, grievance is ‘any discontent or dissatisfaction, whether expressed or not and whether valid or not, arising out of anything connected with the company that an employee thinks, believes or even feels is unfair, unjust or inequitable’. Dale Yoder, who views grievance in the context of its insertion in collective agreements, says, ‘A grievance is commonly defined as a written complaint filed by an employee and claiming unfair treatment.

As such, the specific causes of workers’ grievances may be numerous. Keeping in view the Indian situation, a checklist of the subject matters or causes of workers’ grievances is presented below.

  1. Wages and Compensation Matters

(a) Unfair individual wage-adjustment and fitment. (b) Improper calculation of piece-wages. (c) Errors in calculating wages and arrears. (d) Unfair deductions from wages. (e) Delay in wage-payment and its methods. (f) Discrimination in payment of allowances. (g) Withholding of increments and arrears.

  1. Working Conditions

(a) Unhealthy physical working conditions such as dirty workplace, insufficient lighting and ventilation, polluted environment, exposure to harmful dust, fumes, gas and substances. (b) Non-supply of safety equipments. (c) Non-observance of statutory requirements pertaining to health and safety. (d) Improper maintenance of materials, machines and tools. (e) Techniques of and introduction of new methods.

   3. Personnel Matters

(a) Unfair lay-off and retrenchment. (b) Prejudicial disciplinary action, victimization and wrongful dismissal. (c) Discrimination in promotion and transfer and supersession. (d) Inadequate maintenance of service-book and prejudicial entry. (e) Difficulties in grant of leave. (f) Wrongful superannuation and retirement. (g) Unnecessary training.

  4. Supervision

 (a) Favouritism by supervisor and foreman. (b) Harsh treatment by supervisor and superior. (c) Faulty instructions by supervisor. (d) Uncalled for interference of supervisor impeding smooth work.

  1. Welfare Amenities and Services

 (a) Infringement of statutory requirements relating to amenities at workplace. (b) Inadequate maintenance of housing and related services like water supply and problems relating to drainage and repair. (c) Improper maintenance of sanitary conveniences at the workplace. (d) Unsatisfactory medical facilities. (e) Defective maintenance of canteen, shelter-room and crèche, and supply of non-standard foodstuff in canteen.

  1. Relations with Co-workers

(a) Ill treatment by fellow workers on narrow considerations such as caste, religion, language and tribe. (b) Physical assault and abusive language by a fellow workman or his group. (c) Non-cooperation of fellow workman.

  1. Violation of specific provisions of collective agreements, settlements, standing orders, industrial awards, labour laws and regulations and customary privileges.

What is a Grievance Procedure?

According to P. H. Casselman, grievance procedure is ‘the method and policy set up in an establishment to settle grievances on the part of an employee or group of employees’.33 He further says that a well planned grievance procedure provides: (i) a channel through which a worker may present their grievance, (ii) a procedure assuring a systematic handling of every grievance, (iii) a method whereby the dissatisfied employee can relieve their feelings and (iv) a means of assuring promptness in handling of grievances.34 In contrast to a haphazard or unplanned and informal method of handling grievances, grievance procedure provides for a planned and formal processing of employee grievances in an orderly manner. A grievance procedure specifies the steps involved, the persons to be associated at each step and the method of their selection, the manner in which grievances are to be placed, the extent of authority vested at each level, the sanction behind decisions and the rights and obligations of the parties.  Industrial Relations, Trade Unions, and Labour Legislation Importance of Grievance Procedure Establishment of grievance procedure in industrial or other organizations has several advantages, the more notable among these are as follows:

  1. It does away with the uncertainty involved in locating the authority or person to be approached for the redressal of the grievance. In absence of a formalized procedure, there will be no wonder if the aggrieved employee approaches the supervisor, departmental head, manager, union leader and fellow workers all at a time.
  2. Both the workers and the management are relieved of the tension and worry, which might otherwise have resulted from haphazard handling of grievances.
  3. As most grievance procedures involve the participation of workers’ representatives and those of the management, the decisions taken have a greater amount of acceptability. These also instil confidence in each other.
  4. A grievance procedure also contains elements of fairness and objectivity. In absence of the procedure, the decision of the authority empowered to take decisions may be arbitrary and biased.
  5. The procedure ensures uniformity in the handling of grievances. All concerned including the aggrieved workers, supervisors, managerial personnel and union leaders know well that grievances would be processed through the established channels, and no other method could be invoked.
  6. As the procedure is generally adopted under collective agreements, statutory provisions, tripartite conclusions or standing orders, it has also the element of permanence.
  7. Grievance procedure also minimizes the time and effort in the processing of grievances. Unplanned handling of grievances involves unnecessary wastage of time and energy. Grievance Procedure in India Prior to the enactment of the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946, bipartite or unilateral arrangements for the redressal of grievances existed in a number of big-sized industrial establishments of the country. The enactment of the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946, accelerated the pace of the establishment of the procedure even in medium and small-sized establishments. The Act, which normally applies to industrial establishments employing 100 or more workmen (which could be reduced by the central or state governments) requires the employers to frame standing orders on specified matters which inter alia include ‘means of redress for workmen against unfair treatment or wrongful exactions by the employer or his agents or servants’, and get these certified by the Certifying Officer (see Chapter 22). When certified, the standing orders become legally enforceable.

Grievance Procedure in India

 Prior to the enactment of the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946, bipartite or unilateral arrangements for the redressal of grievances existed in a number of big-sized industrial establishments of the country. The enactment of the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946, accelerated the pace of the establishment of the procedure even in medium and small-sized establishments. The Act, which normally applies to industrial establishments employing 100 or more workmen (which could be reduced by the central or state governments) requires the employers to frame standing orders on specified matters which inter alia include ‘means of redress for workmen against unfair treatment or wrongful exactions by the employer or his agents or servants’, and get these certified by the Certifying Officer (see Chapter 22). When certified, the standing orders become legally enforceable. Besides, the duties assigned to Welfare Officers appointed under the Factories Act, 1948, include dealing with individual complaints of workers. An amendment of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, in 1982 provides for the constitution of a Grievance Settlement Authority by employers employing 50 or more workmen for the settlement of industrial disputes connected with individual workmen. No reference of any dispute is to be made to the or adjudication authorities or for unless the dispute has been referred to the Grievance Settlement Authority and its decision is not acceptable to any of the parties to the dispute. Ever since the coming into force of the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946, the pace of establishing grievance procedure in industrial establishments was accelerated but difficulties were encountered in its establishment in absence of specific guidelines. The Act, however, provides that so long as certified standing orders are not in operation, Model Standing Orders framed by the central or state government will be applicable. The Model Standing Orders framed under the central rules state, state, ‘All complaints arising out of employment including those relating to unfair treatment or wrongful exaction on the part of the employer or his agent, shall be submitted to the manager or other person specified in this behalf with the right to appeal to the employer.

Model Grievance Procedure

The Code of Discipline adopted by the Indian Labour Conference in 1958 inter alia states that the managements and unions agree that ‘they will establish upon a mutually agreed basis a grievance procedure which will ensure a speedy and full investigation leading to settlement and that they will abide by various stages in the grievance procedure and take no arbitrary action which would bypass this procedure’ (see Chapter 12). Ultimately, the matter came up for consideration before the Indian Labour Conference which formed a sub-committee to work out the details. On the basis of the suggestions made by the sub-committee, the Indian Labour Conference adopted the Model Grievance Procedure in 1958. The main contents of the Model Grievance Procedure are as follows:

1. Grievance Machinery

(a) A grievance machinery will be required, to be set up in each undertaking to administer the grievance procedure.

(b) For the purpose of constituting a fresh grievance machinery, workers in each department or a group of departments in small undertakings, shall elect departmental representatives and forward the list to the management. Where unions in the undertaking are in a position to submit an agreed list, recourse to election is not necessary. Where works committees are functioning satisfactorily, the workers’ members may represent workers in the machinery.

(c) The management is required to designate the persons for each department who will be approached at the first stage and the departmental heads for handling grievances at the second stage. Two or three departmental representatives of workers and two or three departmental heads nominated by the management will constitute the grievance committee.

2. Grievance Procedure

The model grievance procedure suggests that while adaptations have to be made to meet special circumstances, the procedure normally envisaged in the handling of grievances should be as follows:

(a) An aggrieved employee is required first to present his grievance verbally in person to the officer designated by the management for the purpose. An answer will have to be given within 48 hours of the presentation of the complaint.

(b) If the worker is not satisfied with the decision of the officer or fails to receive an answer within the stipulated period, they will present their grievance to the head of the department concerned either personally or accompanied by the departmental representative. The departmental head is required to give an answer within three days of the presentation of the grievance. In case of a failure to do so, the reason for delay has to be recorded.

(c) If the decision of the departmental head is unacceptable to the worker, it will, on the request of the worker, be forwarded to the grievance committee, which is required to send its recommendations to the manager within seven days of the worker’s request. In the event of delay, the reasons have to be recorded. It will be incumbent on the management to implement the unanimous recommendations of the grievance committee. In the event of differences of opinion among the members of the grievance committee, the views of the members along with relevant papers have to be placed before the manager for final decision. In either case, the final decision of the management has to be communicated to the workman concerned, by the personnel officer within three days from the receipt of the recommendations of grievance committee.

(d) In case, the worker is not satisfied with the final decision of the management, they have the right to appeal to the management for revision. They also have the right to take a union official with them. The management is required to communicate its decision within seven days of the workman’s revision petition.

(e) If no agreement is possible, the union and the management will refer the grievance to voluntary arbitration for decision..

Grievance Redressal Committee under the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947

 The amendment of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 in 2010, which provides for the constitution of one or more ‘grievance redressal committee’ in every industrial establishment employing 20 or more workmen, also lays down some procedure to be followed for the resolution of disputes arising out of individual grievances. Every grievance redressal committee is to consist of equal number of members from the employer and the workmen. The chairperson of the committee is to be selected from the employer and from among workmen alternatively on rotation basis every year. The total number of members of the committee is not to exceed more than six. As far as practicable, one member of the committee shall be woman, whose number may be increased if there are more than two members. The grievance redressal committee is ordinarily required to complete its proceedings within 45 days on the receipt of a written application by or on behalf of the aggrieved party. The workman, who is aggrieved of the decision of the grievance redressal committee, may prefer an appeal to the employer, who is required to dispose off the same within one month from the date of receipt of the appeal and send a decision to the workman concerned. The setting up of the grievance redressal committee, however, does not affect the right of the workman to raise industrial dispute on the same matter under the provisions of the Industrial Dispute Act, 1947. [Sec. 9C]

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