Research Areas in Labour Studies

This article is based on the Key Note Address delivered by him on 4th January 2016 in Mumbai at the Workshop on “Research Methods in Labour Studies” organized by Late Narayan Meghaji Lokhande Institute of Labour Studies, Mumbai in collaboration with V. V. GIRI National Labour Institute, Noida. 


In India, we come across case studies on labour issues presented in conferences and also in publications. Most of these are case examples of practices in specific situations, which were implemented in improving performance and/or tackling problems in the formal sector, wherein the people and/or enterprise benefitted. However, we see limited studies and presentations  with reference to problems dealing with people working in the informal sector, though this sector generates bulk of the employment in India. There is a need for researchers to work in areas of the informal sector with reference to labour, where limited research has been undertaken though the scope is wide. Persons working in the informal sector by and large earn a paltry sum of money every month, hardly have any social security, and terminal benefits are mostly out of the ambit of labour laws of the country. 

Dr. Manas Dasgupta in his book on “Research Methodology in Economics – Problems & Issues” published by Deep & Deep Publications Private Limited, Delhi has identified various problems and issues in research. I have tried to look at some of these limitations when research is carried out by researchers in Labour Studies. The research in labour studies is in a social science field dealing with human beings, compared to research in physical science. In physical science, the basic tool used for research is laboratory experiments. However in social sciences, research deals with human beings. It is well known that human beings do not react in a uniform manner that is predictable and at times the reaction is judgemental. 

Hence, the researcher needs to understand this difference. It is also believed that in social sciences, the question of “values” has relevance, while in the case of physical science the question of “values” does not enter the domain of experiments. Research methods have both inductive and deductive dimensions. In the case of inductive research, one collects data and tries to develop a theory; while in the case of deductive research, one hopes to find data to match a theory, and this, at times, has problems while collecting data in labour studies.

There is invariably a debate amongst researchers on research methodology when it comes to analyzing quantitative v/s qualitative approach. Without entering into the debate of this analysis, I would mention through research, one is making efforts at predictions based on world of facts, at the same time there is need to verify the predictions through facts or ccurrences.  While carrying out research in labour studies there are three areas on which the researcher must have clarity i.e. (i) definitions; (ii) data collection and (iii) use of appropriate techniques. 


The terminology used must be based on acceptable definitions either nationally or internationally. This is essential, otherwise comparisons and interpretations not only become difficult but also get blurred, and at times, distorted. For example, for each of the Labour Laws in India, there is a section at the beginning of each of the Act on definitions, so as to avoid ambiguity in interpretation. 

The International Labour Organization (ILO) defines “Decent Work” as meaning work, which is carried out in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity. Quite often “Decent Work” is defined with varying interpretations by human resource practitioners, academicians, trade unions, employer organizations, professional bodies, NGOs, Government, enterprises and
students, where each one is giving their own interpretation to the terminology of “Decent Work”. However, in research, we need to ensure that a terminology used must be clearly defined, explained and understood by all (i.e. the researcher and the target audience from where data is collected), so as to avoid bias and ambiguity in interpretation of the terminology.

The term ”Unorganised Sector” when used in the Indian context is defined by National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector (NCEUS) as “consisting of all unincorporated private enterprises owned by individuals or households engaged in the sale or production of goods and services operated on a proprietary or partnership basis and with less than ten total workers”. Unorganized Sector is also referred to as Informal Sector. The National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO), which has been conducting surveys of unorganized enterprises at periodical intervals, generally adopted the following criteria for the identification of unorganized sector: 

(i) In the case of manufacturing industries, the enterprises not covered under the Annual Survey of Industries (ASI) are taken to constitute the unorganized sector.

(ii) In the case of service industries, all enterprises, except those run by the Government (Central, State and Local Body) and in the corporate sector were regarded as unorganized.

The above mentioned definition, as followed by these two types of organizations, broadens the coverage of the unorganized sectors, because there are quite many enterprises and family businesses conducted in India, which operate with less than ten persons and may not go through any registration, and hence get termed as unorganized sector, though strictly they are not unorganized or informal. The ILO under Convention 177 defines the term ”home based work” meaning work carried out by a person, to be referred to as a home worker – 

(i) In his or her home or in other premises of his or her choice, other than the workplace of the employer; 
(ii) For remuneration; and 
(iii) Where the work results in a product or service as specified by the employer, irrespective of who provides the equipment, materials or other inputs used, unless this person has the degree of autonomy and of economic independence necessary to be considered an independent worker under national laws, regulations or court decisions. Similarly, ILO under Convention 189 defines the term ”domestic work” as work performed in and for a household or households. The term ”domestic worker” means any person engaged in domestic work within an employment relationship. Also, if a person performs domestic work occasionally or sporadically, and not on occupational basis is not a domestic worker. However, I find that most persons do not distinguish between “Home based Work” and “Domestic Work”. Quite often individuals confuse home based work with domestic work, though the two are different. 

Data Collection

The method of data collection is either from the establishment or from individuals. In the case of data to be collected from establishments dealing with labour, the researcher is heavily dependent upon the willingness of the establishment (i.e. enterprise) to part with the data and permit compilation either by interviews, and/or through documented reports. If an nterprise does not grant permission for data collection, then the individual has to base the research on the published reports of the enterprise, which are in public domain, if the researcher chooses that enterprise. Most enterprises are interested in their success cases being researched and reported, but are reluctant to permit research studies on such of their not so success and failure cases. Reality is that in enterprises you have both success and failure cases and the researcher’s study should cover both, but the limitations come in when the researcher has an absence to access failure cases. Also, the coverage on number of establishments from which an individual can obtain data is by and large limited. As for collecting data from individuals, the coverage by the researcher can be extensive, but the data collected may not be very reliable.

Use of Appropriate Techniques The researcher needs to ensure that the sampling techniques used are correct and the sample is representative, and there are no sampling errors. Also, there should be no selection bias and interview bias. While carrying out research, one has to decide how non responses would be dealt with. There is one other problem in research. Large number of researchers desire to use statistical tools to build a causation relation and later justify it. Quite often, the technique used may not be appropriate and also the assumptions made at times could be questionable. Using statistics is not necessarily being scientific. 

Research Areas

Looking at the current business and social situation in India, there is ample scope for research being undertaken on various areas in the field of labour studies. Human resource practitioners, academicians, trade unions, employer organizations, professional bodies, NGOs, Government, enterprises and students can undertake research depending upon their interest and ease of accessibility to data. Listed below are some broad areas for research for labour studies. The list is illustrative and not exhaustive and can be further expanded. However, in these broad areas, specific topics will have to be identified by the researcher for deeper study. 

1. Global/Domestic supply and distribution chain and its impact on labour. 

2. Use of non tariff barriers by certain countries through various buyer code and standards for the accreditation of the manufacturing/service facilities and also applying labour and environmental standards for goods and services from the exporting country.

3. The future of work.

4. Predicting and preparing for the changes at workplace of the future for the workforce, due to impact of improvements in technology, increasing competition, need for an environment friendly & safe approach on consumption of raw material, environment friendly & safe manufacturing process and environment friendly & safe disposal of waste and the end product.

5. Predicting changing requirements in skill sets, so as to facilitate people to be prepared for future.

6. Rising cost of real estate in metropolitan cities and major towns resulting in closing/ shifting of enterprises (for e.g. mills becoming malls). Impact on job destruction, job modification and job creation. 

7. Government policies including fiscal on facilitating/hindering creation of jobs. Impact on job creation, job modification and job destruction. 

8. Migration of labour within the country and overseas.

9. Living wage rather than minimum wage.

10. Labour Law reforms to meet the potential of the economic reforms.

11. Improvements in Labour Law administration through the use of technology.

12. Role of Office of the Commissioner of Labour in dealing/not dealing with partisan promoted interests by trade unions affiliated to ruling parties of the State Government.

13. Fragmentation to consolidation of trade unions through federations. 

14. Fragmentation to consolidation of employer organizations through federations.

15. Entry of NGOs into trade union movement.

16. The changing pattern of the debate at the annual Indian Labour Conference.

17. The changing pattern of judicial interpretations of labour laws under the changed economic environment though the laws have not changed.

18. Role of academic institutes in developing human resource professionals for enterprises, trade unions, NGOs and Government.

19. Bench marking practices that have helped make productive enterprises in the same environment with the same labour laws.

20. Freedom of Association & the Right to Collective Bargaining of gold collar, pink collar, white collar and blue collar workforce and the changing trends in their strategies on resolving grievances and settling disputes. 

21. Contract labour use and misuse in the manufacturing as well as service sector. 

22. The Gen Y blue collar worker in manufacturing plants.

23. Innovations in the 4 Rs (i.e. Recruitment, Retention, Removal, Retirement) in enterprises. 

24. Revisiting annual appraisal system.

25. Restructuring of ownership of enterprises (i.e. mergers, demergers, hiving off, slump sale, acquisition, and strategic alliance) and their impact on workforce. 26. Re-engineering of enterprises leading to right sizing the workforce.

27. Changing pattern and disparity in compensation of employees in enterprises. 

28. Changing dimensions of Industrial Relations.

29. Psychographic profiles of workforce – commonality and differences in certain sectors.

30. Workplace Diversity and inclusion. 

31. Engaging members of LGBT (i.e. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) at workplace.

32. Sexual Harassment at the workplace.

33. Employee welfare and workplace environment.

34. Social security.

35. Apprenticeship training.

36. Concept of lifetime employment vanishing.

37. Involvement of company employees in corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects.

38. Revisiting and strengthening occupational health & safety at the workplace

39. Studies dealing with employment in agriculture.

40. Studies dealing with plantation labour. 

41. Studies dealing with Home Workers in urban and rural areas.

42. Studies dealing with Domestic Workers in metropolitan cities and various towns.

43. Studies dealing with Security Guards in residential cooperative societies, bungalows in metropolitan cities and various towns.

44. Impact of smart cities on employment in the informal sector.

45. Bare Foot Entrepreneur (Street Vendor Trade) in the Unorganized/ Informal Sector in Indian Cities 

46 Studies dealing with drivers of various modes of private vehicles – four wheelers (i.e. taxis), three wheelers (i.e. tempos, autorickshaws, and cycle rickshaws), two wheelers (motorcycles) in metropolitan cities and various towns. 

47. Studies dealing with garbage collectors, rag pickers, scrap collectors in metropolitan cities and various towns.


The labour market in India is going through rapid changes, and there is ample scope for human resource practitioners, academicians, trade unions, employer organizations, professional bodies, NGOs, Government, enterprises and students to collaborate and facilitate research in labour studies, so that the researcher can compile the relevant data, use the right techniques and come forward with research findings. This will help the stake holders in the labour market to play their roles effectively and also help the persons in the labour market to prosper and grow. 


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