Comparative Industrial Relations in Malawi & India: Industrial Dispute Settlement Procedures.

AuthorMalema, Kalani Mbeye


Trade globalization has led to the growth of multinational companies (MNCs) in the world in the recent past decades. MNCs from developed, middle developed and some developing countries with fast growing economies have taken lead to invest in foreign markets. At the center of managing the MNCs in the foreign markets is the management of the company hired native employees. This calls for managements of the employing MNCs to study/ know industrial relations (IR) structures/ models and apply the prevailing labor legislation of the host countries to effectively manage their native workforce. In this respect, comparative studies on the countries' industrial relations systems are justifiable and significant to generate knowledge on the IR systems of the studied countries for the benefit and information of foreign investors and MNCs in particular (in their capacity as employers) and for lesson sharing between respective governments' policy makers.

Foreign investors from India have invested in some African countries including Malawi for the past 10 years. For example, they have established private universities in Malawi such as the Millennium University and others. Indian investors have also expanded their investments in the trading sector to the extent that most of the big trading cities in Malawi have big hardware shops and shopping malls owned by the Indian investors. In addition, there are many Indian contractors who are equally employing many Malawians to undertake their construction activities in Malawi. The key positive implication with respect to such growing investments for the host country industrial relations is the growth of the countrys employed workforce. It is this development that motivated the authors to design this paper with a purpose to compare industrial relations of Malawi and India by focusing on the industrial dispute settlement procedures of the two countries.

Problem Statement

Malawi's legal framework of industrial dispute settlement procedure is provided under part V of the Malawian Labor Relations Act (LRA) No. 16 of 1996. On the other hand, India's legal framework of industrial dispute settlement procedure is provided under chapter V of the Indian Industrial Disputes Act (IDA) No. 14 of 1947. The two procedures regulate the management of industrial disputes particularly strikes and/or lockouts that are exercised by workers and employers respectively.

Exercising the right to strike/lockout by workers/employers without violating required provisions as laid down in a particular country's legal industrial dispute settlement procedure is a desirable situation by every country in the world especially those that are member states of International Labor Organization (ILO). Contrary to this desirable situation, however, many developing countries including Malawi and India are reported to be experiencing the opposite where strikes are usually staged illegally, that is, they are staged without following legal requirements. This creates undesirable situation which is a problem in itself.

Comparing the two industrial dispute procedures and exploring why illegal strikes/lockouts are being staged by workers/employers despite having well defined industrial dispute procedures in their labor laws became key issues/questions to be investigated in this paper. The key issues/questions were used to formulate two specific objectives addressed in this paper which are: to briefly outline industrial relations systems of Malawi and India and summarize their legal industrial dispute procedures; and to compare summarized legal industrial dispute procedures and show their implications as well as examine whether they are complex/ rigorous with reference to exercise of the right to strike/lockout.

Industrial Relations in Malawi & India

Malawi, a former British colony, is a member of ILO since 1965. As an ILO member state, Malawi has ratified a total of 29 ILO conventions to date (MoL, 2011; Malema, 2014). The 29 ratified conventions include the two, (the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize convention, No. 87 and the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining convention, No. 98), that relate to the right of workers to organize and to collectively bargain which in turn include the right to withdraw labor. Most relevant provisions of the ratified conventions have been domesticated into the country's labor legislation. This has greatly helped in shaping the Malawian industrial relations system with respect to developing her labor legislation framework. There is a relatively weaker trade unionism system consisting fragmented trade unions most of which are disorganized without definite operating structures (Dzimbiri, 2016). This disorganization has negatively affected trade union density which is currently declining in Malawi.

In terms of size of labor legislation, Malawi is one of those fewer countries within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region that have smaller number of labor legislative Acts regulating their developing industrial relations. Specifically, the country has only 5 labor legislative Acts currently in force. These are: Labor Relations Act of 1996; Occupational Safety, Health and Welfare Act of 1997; Employment Act of 2000; Workers Compensation Act of 2000; and Pension Act of 2011. All other colonial labor statutes were repealed by these 5 legislative Acts which preserved only relevant provisions from the repealed Acts. In addition, as observed by Banda (2008) and confirmed by Sikwese (2010), the Malawi's labor legislation has for the past decades been shaped by courts in the form of judge made laws on labor and employment matters which have also formed part of the country's labor laws for references.

On the other hand, India, also a former British colony is a member of ILO since 1919. As an ILO member state, India has ratified a total of 36 ILO conventions to date (Mamoria et al, 2017). Similarly, these ratifications have greatly helped in shaping the Indian industrial relations system with respect to developing the Indian labor legislative framework. This is because relevant provisions of ratified conventions have been adopted and incorporated into the country's labor legislation. Mamoria et al. (2017: 522) noted that "India's commitment to the ILO is reflected in its adherence to the institution of tripartism as a novel method of resolving labor management conflicts". They further indicated that the influence of ILO standards on the Indian labor legislation is more noticeable especially after 1947 when the Indian National Government assumed its office at the center. Apart from shaping the Indian labor legislation, ILO, through its tripartite activities, has also greatly influenced the Indian trade union movement.

The Indian industrial relations model, according to Zechariah (1991: 360), is characterized by strained union-management relations that lack cooperation, compromise and competition. Zachariah observed that "multiple rival unionisms" is an important feature and one of the greatest weaknesses of the Indian trade union movement. Indian industrial relations system is one of the heavily regulated industrial relations systems in the world. This is because of two reasons. First, Indian labor laws are considered to be very highly regulated and rigid as compared to those of other countries in the world. Second, the country has over 50 main labor legislative Acts and numerous other laws that regulate employers and employees in matters relating to industrial relations (Joseph, 2014; Poddar, 2014). A number of these Indian labor laws survived from British colonial times, while some have been enacted after India's Independence.

Both the central and state governments have enacted laws on labor relations and employment issues for the country as whole and for specific states respectively. It is therefore well-known that the current volume of Indian labor laws are thus a combination of India's history during its colonial heritage; India's experiments with socialism; important human rights and conventions/ standards that have emerged from the United Nations particularly those of ILO.

In summary, both Malawi and India, as former British colonies and ILO member states, have similar industrial relations systems that are regulated by labor laws which are a combination of the preserved provisions from the colonial labor legislative Acts of British origin and those provisions from relevant ILO labor standards (the conventions) that have been domesticated into the two countries' labor legislative Acts. This similarity is the case despite the fact that Indian IR system is more developed than the Malawian IR system in addition to being regulated by far much greater number of labor legislative Acts as compared to Malawi with only 5 labor Acts.

Industrial Dispute Settlement Procedure in Malawi


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