PublicationsTripartism in Indian Industrial Relations & Covid-19


Tripartism refers to an industrial concept, that involves three facets – the employers, the employees as well as the government. The concept of Tripartism has been adopted in Indian Labour Law, through the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. The Ministry of Labour has also included this concept in its functioning through its committees and consultations. Lastly, this paper looks at the contemporary scenario of the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, and how the concept of Tripartism is being used to help the employees and employers.


Tripartism is a concept that originates from the word tripartite, which refers to the involvement of three parties or division into three representative groups[i]. The International Labour Organisation defines Tripartism as “the interaction of government, employees and employers (through their representatives) as equal and independent partners to seek solutions to issues of common concern”[ii]. Since Tripartism involves three parties working together, the employees, trade unions and the government are encouraged to dialogue with the management as a team, thus making it easier to come to a consensus on relevant issues, while ensuring there is no detriment to the corporate result of the establishment.

In the Indian context, this representation is ensured by the involvement of representative of workers (i.e. trade unions), representative of employers (Business organizations like FICCI) and government representatives (Labour ministry) makes sure that there is adequate representation from all three players in the dispute redressal forums.


The Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 is the primary statute that deals with industrial relations in India. Under its various provisions, the concept of Tripartism has been adhered, especially through the dispute redressal mechanisms provided in the statute. Justice Krishna Iyer stated that as a developing welfare state, the objective of the act was to put an end to the exploitation of the workers, without deterring the industrial growth and the smooth flow of goods and services in the State[iii]. This balance could only be achieved through the involvement of the government in the process of dispute redressal.

The Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 provides for a three-stage mechanism for industrial dispute resolution, which includes:

  1. Conciliation
  2. Arbitration
  3. Adjudication

The Act provides for conciliation intending to effect amicable settlements for disputes between the management and the workers. Conciliation has not been defined under the Act, but in industrial parlance, it usually involves intervention by a third party, which may be the government or a private body appointed by the government to bring about a settlement[iv]. The Conciliation machinery provided for in the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 encompasses conciliation officers, the board of conciliation and the court of inquiry, all of which are to be appointed by the appropriate government[v], thereby adhering to the tripartite nature of industrial relations. In Bansilal Kishorilal Sahu vs Akola Mazdoor Sangh, the Trade Union was seeking a 5% deduction towards their activities. The Trade Union was claiming the 5% deduction under the settlement arrived at between the Trade Union, the Employers and the appropriate Government[vi]. The Bombay High Court upheld the sanctity of tripartite settlement arrived in conciliation proceedings and emphasised on the binding nature of these settlements towards the employers as well as present and future employees[vii].

The Act prescribes voluntary arbitration as a form of dispute redressal, keeping in mind the difficulty in arriving at an amicable solution from the conciliation process and the lengthy legal proceedings that are generally involved in the process of adjudication[viii]. Voluntary arbitration is the referral of the dispute to an independent person approved by the employers and employees[ix].

The last remedy in an industrial dispute is adjudication. It is a process whereby the dispute is resolved by a third party that is appointed by the government. Adjudication becomes mandatory when the government makes a reference of the dispute without the consent of either or both the parties to the dispute[x]. A three-tier adjudication system has been provided by the statute that consists of –

  1. Labour Courts[xi]
  2. Industrial Tribunals[xii]
  3. National Tribunals[xiii]

The appropriate governments are empowered to constitute and refer the disputes to these tribunals as and when they deem necessary as per the conditions given under Section 7,7A, 7B of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.

Section 18(3) of the Industrial Disputes Act stated that Settlements arrived at the tripartite level through the abovementioned forms of dispute redressal do not merely bind the parties to the agreement but also binds all parties to the dispute including minority trade unions and future employees of the establishments[xiv].

Section 3 of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 states that in industrial establishments having more than a hundred workmen employed or have been employed in the last twelve months, the appropriate Government may order the employer to constitute a Works committee in the prescribed manner[xv]. The Works Committee ordered to be constituted must consist of equal representation of workmen and representatives of the employer. The above provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act include the elements of Tripartism in the Act.


Apart from the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, there are several other forms of Indian industrial relations which display elements of Tripartism. The Ministry of Labour and Employment, which is the primary government body responsible for policy and executive decisions related to labour welfare, implements Tripartism in their working. The Government, thus being committed to the ethos of Tripartism, takes measures to implement it through its policies and executive actions[xvi]. The Government maintains a balance amongst divergent interest groups by fostering a co-operative spirit among them. Through ensuring purposive and meaningful interaction between the employers and the employees the Government has evolved a more rational labour policy which was non-existent in the past.

The ministry always ensures consensus is taken from the employers and the employees while enacting new laws or policies related to industrial relations. The objective of the Ministry is to take into account the views of all the social partners while framing policies for the working classes. Following the procedure adopted by the ILO, the Government of India set up various Industrial Tripartite committees for different industries[xvii]. The main task of these committees is to look into the problems of labour specific to the industry concerned, with the view to bring about better understanding between the employers and the employees and to formulate a workable formula agreeable to the parties concerned[xviii]. At present, the following Industrial Tripartite Committees are constituted as: –

  • Industrial Tripartite Committee on Plantation Industry.
  • Industrial Tripartite Committee on Road Transport Industry.
  • Industrial Tripartite Committee on Cotton Textile Industry.
  • Industrial Tripartite Committee on Jute Industry.
  • Industrial Tripartite Committee on Electricity Generation and Distribution Industry.
  • Industrial Tripartite Committee on Engineering Industry.
  • Industrial Tripartite Committee for sales promotion employees[xix].

Apart from the Labour Ministry, several other government bodies like the Central Advisory Contract Labour Board (CACLB) are based on the principle of tripartism. The CACLB is constituted under Section 3 of the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act 1970, by the Government of India, with its main purpose to advise the Central Government on such matters arising out of the administration of the Act[xx].


The Corona Virus outbreak, which has been classified as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation, has resulted in the disruption of the economy and commerce of our country. In the wake of this outbreak, The Ministry of Labour has issued an advisory asking the employers to not terminate their employees, with special emphasis on casual and contractual workers[xxi]. In addition to this, the employees who take leave owing to the Coronavirus should be deemed to be on duty without any consequential deduction in wages[xxii]. Further, if due to the outbreak, the place of employment was to become non-operational then the employees of such units would be deemed to be on duty and receive their wages[xxiii]. The government has urged employers to help them in their efforts to combat coronavirus.

According to the International Labour Organization, COVID-19 could render 25 million people unemployed and underemployed as a result of the reduction in wages and working hours[xxiv]. This is especially critical in India, where a large population is a dependant on daily wages for their survival. It would be extremely difficult for all the employers to support their employees during the lockdown, as almost 120 million people in India, are employed in the Micro, Medium and Small-Scale Industries (MSME), which do not have deep pockets to remunerate their employees during these testing times[xxv]. Thus, the Finance Minister has announced a relief package of ₹1.70 lakh crores to provide immediate help to the migrant workers and urban and rural poor. It is estimated that about 80 crore poor people would be granted relief from this package[xxvi]. The bigger industrialists have come out in support of the government by making large donations to the Prime Minister CARES fund and providing other forms of assistance to the Government to beat the virus.

The Tripartite Nature of Industrial relations in India is one of the major ways in which our country will be able to combat this pandemic and emerge victoriously. The Government’s involvement is extremely crucial for both the employers as well as employees. The Government’s economic package for Aatma Nirbhar Bharat is an example of how the government is striving to protect both stakeholders of industrial relations content. The government has planned to extend its support under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana, for another three months, thereby contributing twelve per cent of finance, which amounts to a

Rs 2,500 crore liquidity support for the employers, benefitting 72 lakh employees[xxvii]. The Finance minister mentioned labour as one of the key factors of production, which they will address as a part of the Aatma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan.


Tripartism helps in bringing together two sides of the same coin, i.e., employers and employees who have a conflict of interest and makes sure that both of them contribute to the dispute resolution process positively. It ensures the presence of a third party – usually the government that acts as the umpire in the dispute resolution process. The concept of tripartism, helps the government formulate laws and policies that would acceptable to both the employees as well as employers. This ensures the employees are not exploited as the government holds the power to refer disputes to tripartite settlement, in which the government would be a stakeholder. A financial crisis in a country affects the employees of the industries the most. They are the first to bite the dust if a firm is not performing on expected lines, as most firms believe that reducing their employee payroll can ensure the “going concern” characteristics of the firm. As the Indian economy falters due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, millions of jobs across sectors are on the line. Periodic Labour Force Surveys (PLFS) suggest that almost 136 million jobs are at risk, with worst affected sectors being, Tourism, Automobile Industry and Start-up Companies[xxviii]. This is where the importance of government intervention through the tripartite structure becomes important, as it is the need of the hour that the government announces relief packages and ensures companies and businesses remain a “going concern”, to protect the several jobs at stake.

Tripartism has adversely affected the concept of collective bargaining in Indian industrial relations, as it rules out the space for dialogue between the employers and the employees. In addition to this, a constant problem with the involvement of the government is the failure to provide timely solutions to industrial disputes. Yet on an overall lookout, the concept of Tripartism is integral and essential to Indian industrial relations.



[ii] Social Dialogue and Tripartism” (International Labour Organisation 2018) the-ilo/who-we-are/tripartite-constituents/lang–en/index.htm accessed 22 March 2020.

[iii] Bangalore Water Supply & Sewage Board Vs. A. Rajappa, 1978 AIR 548.

[iv] Section4,5, Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.

[v] ibid.

[vi] Bansilal Kishorilal Sahu vs Akola Mazdoor Sangh, 2005 (2) MhLj 526.

[vii] ibid.

[viii] Anutosh Pandey, “TRIPARTISM IN INDIAN INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS” (, 15 July 2014) accessed 27 March 2020.

[ix] ibid.

[x] Section 7, Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.

[xi] ibid.

[xii] Section 7A, Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.

[xiii] Section 7B, Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.

[xiv] Deepanjan Dey, “Tripartite Settlement: A protective shield” (, 01 October 2018) accessed 28 March 2020.

[xv] Section 3, Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.

[xvi] Ashutosh Pandey, (n7).

[xvii] “Industrial Tripartite Committees” ( accessed March 31, 2020.

[xviii] ibid.

[xix] ibid.

[xx] Section 3, Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970.


[xxii] ibid.

[xxiii] Ibid.

[xxiv] Aditi Vyas, “How India can show leadership in addressing COVID-19” (World Economic Forum, 25 March 2020) accessed 31 March 2020.

[xxv]“Micro, Medium &Small Scale Industry” (  accessed March 31, 2019.

[xxvi] “Coronavirus: FM Sitharaman Announces Package Worth Rs 1,70,000 Crore for Poor, Daily Wagers” (, March 26, 2020) accessed March 31, 2020.

[xxvii] ETBFSI, “Finance Minister’s top announcements regarding economic package for Aatmanirbhar Bharat” (Economic Times, 13 May 2020) accessed 15 May 2020.

[xxviii] Niharika Sharma, “Coronavirus crisis triggers layoffs, pay cuts, and hiring freeze across Indian industries” (, 17 April 2020) accessed 15 May 2020.

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