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Producing Better Labor Statistics


The continual evolution of labor institutions is driven by both objective factors, such as changes in product markets, technology, trade, and investment, and subjective factors, including the orientations of involved agencies. This dynamic applies to the industrial relations system and labor market (IRS-LM), where variables like trade unions, collective bargaining, and strikes are in flux. Reforms in this domain typically address substantive issues and procedural aspects.


GS Paper – 3

  • Employment
  • Inclusive Growth

Mains Question:

Discuss the concerns associated with the compilation of labor statistics in India. What role can trade unions play in this regard? (10 Marks, 150 Words).

Obtaining Labor Statistics:

  • One crucial procedural element is social dialogue, which facilitates consensus-building through debate, ultimately informing legal and policy actions.
  • However, this process often lacks evidence-based arguments, resulting in the propagation of class-based opinions unsupported by credible data or experience.
  • The Indian Labour Conference (ILC), a key social dialogue agency, has regrettably devolved into a mere forum for discussion without meaningful outcomes.
  • Unlike economic and industrial data, labor statistics lack rigor. While entities like the Annual Survey of Industries (ASI) and the National Sample Survey Office provide robust data, their coverage of IRS-LM-related information is limited.
  • The Labour Bureau offers statistics on various industrial relations and labor metrics but primarily relies on administrative data generated during labor law implementation.
  • Moreover, data on work stoppages are collected voluntarily, and the composition and scope of Labor Bureau data have remained largely unchanged over the years.

Employers Rationale for Reforms in Labor Statistics:

Let’s examine three persistent arguments for reform frequently advocated by employers and neoliberal scholars.

  • Employers often criticize the labor inspection system, labeling it as an “Inspector-Raj,” and call for its overhaul, likely due to their limited exposure to its workings.
  • They express dissatisfaction with state governments’ reluctance to approve applications for retrenchment or establishment closures and advocate for restrictions on the right to strike, preferring non-unionized workplaces.
  • Similarly, certain academics and global bodies like the World Bank/International Monetary Fund, sharing similar predispositions to employers, consistently produce studies supporting the positive effects of reforms while dismissing opposing views. For instance, despite significant flaws in studies utilizing methodologies like those employed by Besley and Burgess (B&B) in their 2004 analysis on labor regulation impacts, employers and others continue to exploit them to advocate for various reforms, including hiring and firing policies.

Role of Trade Unions in Obtaining Labor Statistics:

Gathering Information:

In response to these reform arguments, trade unions should have gathered pertinent information and statistics on inspections, such as the number of authorized inspectors versus those actually employed, the extent of inspections conducted compared to the total universe, and the frequency of inspections.

Reforms Related to Hiring and Closure:

Concerning reforms related to hiring and closure practices, trade unions have failed to gather data on retrenchment and closure applications filed under Chapter V-B, along with the permissions granted or denied by labor departments. Most states do not publish such data, except for a limited period in Maharashtra.

Regarding Strikes:

  • Regarding strikes, the Industrial Relations Code of 2020 has made legal strikes nearly unattainable, imposing heavy penalties for illegal strikes.
  • Trade unions could have utilized strike and lockout data published by the Labor Bureau, revealing that lockouts occur more frequently and result in more lost workdays than strikes during the post-reform period.
  • This evidence could have challenged the necessity of introducing harsher strike clauses in the Industrial Relations Code.

Compiling Statistics:

  • Trade unions are in a favorable position to compile statistics on various aspects of the industrial relations system and labor market at the establishment level. While employer organizations such as NASSCOM generate statistics on the IT industry, these are often used indiscriminately.
  • In essence, trade unions should prioritize the production of labor statistics, conduct research on the industrial relations system and labor market, establish active and productive collaborations with academics, and employ academic studies to formulate evidence-based arguments in forums such as the Indian Labor Conference.


The above actions would likely prompt broader society and the government to advocate for labor statistics reform, granting strikes public legitimacy. This May Day in 2024, trade unions should commit to undertaking these measures, knowing that such pursuits may lead to reforms within statistical agencies like the Labor Bureau.

May 2024