Hospitals and Other Institutions (Settlement of Disputes) Bill, 1982
ON THE PLEA that hospitals and educational, scientific, research and training institutions have a "special character of their own", undefined except in that it requires the maintenance of "an atmosphere that eschews strife and conflicts", the Hospitals and Other Institutions Bill seeks to justify the exclusion of such institutions from the definition of the term 'industry' achieved with the passing of the Industrial Disputes (Amendment) Bill earlier this year. That this 'special character' is no indication of the government's appreciation of the special nature of the 'services' being rendered to society by such institutions is evident from the contents of the Bill.
The Bill strikes at the very root of the principle of collective bargaining, denying all legitimate trade union activity in universities, colleges, research institutions, hospitals, institutions engaged in "any charitable, social or philanthropic service", in Khadi and village industries and in "any activity of the government... dealing with defence research, atomic energy and space" [Clause 1(4)]. It is not just strikes, gheraos, go-slow and work-to-rule which are to be banned for lakhs of people ("workmen" in the terminology of the Bill). The Bill prohibits "any other form of cessation or retardation of work" [Clause 19(1)]. What constitutes "cessation or retardation" of work is deliberately kept vague, providing employers wilh arbitrary powers for forcing employees into submission. At the collective level, even meetings of workers, let alone mass deputations or demonstrations, could be interpreted as constituting such "cessation or retardation". Full scope is provided for victimisation of individual employees as even an inadvertant delay in returning from a lunch or tea break could qualify as a "retardation of work".
The Bill is not merely concerned with proscribing all forms of protest for employees on the pay rolls of the institution. Its scope extends, through the definition of the term "workman", to include "for the purposes of any proceedings under this Act in relation to any dispute, ... any such person who has been dismissed, discharged or retrenched in connection with, or as a consequence of, that dispute, or whose dismissal, discharge or retrenchment has led to that dispute" [Clause 3(0)]. Thus, even an individual hunger strike or dharna to draw attention to an injustice suffered would render a discharged or retrenched employee vulnerable to punishment under the provisions of the Bill. Prohibiting even such accepted Gandhian tactics on the one hand, while denying the right to take recourse to