Labor Unrest in India: How Big a Problem?

Job losses during the economic slowdown have triggered a surge in the number of conflicts between management and organized labor in India, according to media reports.

Just last month, Air India declared that it had nearly run out of money and that payment of employees' salaries would be delayed by 15 days. The Air Corporation Employees Union, the Aviation Industry Employees Guild and the Indian Aircraft Technicians Association threatened a "no pay, no work" job action. That was just one flashpoint in a series of labor disputes and strikes sweeping the country. "Trade unions: up in arms again?" asks a headline in the magazine Business India. In a recent cover story titled, "The Summer of Discontent," Indian business weekly Businessworld writes: "Over the past four to six months, there has been a steady increase in the number of labor disputes and flash strikes."

In the same article, S. Krishnan, additional secretary in the Union ministry for labor and employment, tells the magazine: "Disputes have gone up since 2008, but the data are still being compiled for that period. Figures do not reflect the trend, as often disputes are not being reported. Closures are taking place, layoffs are happening, but either workers are accepting it quietly or the units they were working for were very small."

The current issue of India Knowledge at Wharton examines India's labor situation in an article titled, "Labor Pains: Is Industrial Unrest Growing or Slowing? "