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The Actual Duties Performed By The Employees Have To Be Considered Rather Than The Additional Work Discharged To Determine The Employees’ Classification As ‘workmen’: Bombay High Court

Ifrah Murtaza ,
  11 May 2024       Share Bookmark

Court :
The Hon’ble High Court of Bombay
Brief :

Citation :
Writ Petition No. 6446 of 2021

Case title:

Godrej and Boyce Manufacturing Co. Ltd. v. Shivkranti Kamgar Sanghatana  

Date of Order:

28th March 2024

Bench:

Hon’ble Mr Justice Amit Borkar

Parties:

Petitioner: Godrej and Boyce Manufacturing Company Ltd. INterio Diivision, Gat No. 1267 Shirwal, Taluka: Khandala; Dist: Satara 412 801

Respondent: Shivkranti Kamgar Sanghatana, 101 Walwan, Lonawala, Tal-Lonawala, Dist- Pune 410403 

SUBJECT:

The Hon’ble High Court of Bombay (hereinafter referred to as the ‘High Court’ or ‘the Court’) adjudicated a petition filed to contest an order of the Industrial Tribunal. The Tribunal had ruled that certain employees (respondents) of the petitioner, a company, qualified as workmen under the Industrial Disputes Act. The Court upheld the Tribunal’s order, not finding any need for intervention and dismissed the petition. 

IMPORTANT PROVISIONS:

The Constitution of India, 1950

  • Articles 226 
  • Articles 227    

The Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 (IDA):

  • Section 2(s): defines ‘workman’ as any person (including an apprentice employed in any industry) to do any manual, unskilled, skilled, technical, operational, clerical or supervisory work for hire or reward, whether the terms of employment be express or implied, and for the purposes of any proceeding under this Act in relation to an industrial dispute, includes 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.

The Trade Unions Act, 1926

OVERVIEW:

  • In 2015 the respondent, a union representing workmen of the petitioner (an engineering company), raised a charter of demands seeking increase in wages, benefits, and emoluments for the workmen. 
  • The respondent raised the dispute on behalf of approximately 44 employees whose names were listed in Annexure-A to the Statement of Claim. 
  • The dispute was referred to the Industrial Tribunal after the conciliation proceedings failed. The Tribunal framed a preliminary issue to determine whether the employees mentioned in Annexure-A were workmen under the IDA.
  • On 09.06.2021, the Tribunal held that only 20 people fell under the category of workmen as per the provision of section 2(s) of IDA. 
  • The petitioner has challenged the order in the instant petition.

ISSUES RAISED:

  • Whether the employees mentioned in Annexure-A of the Statement of Claim are ‘workmen’?
  • Whether the concerned individuals were working within the meaning of section 2(s) of IDA?
  • Whether in light of the duties assigned to him, the employee would be considered working or not?

ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE PETITIONER:

  • The duties assigned to the workers were primarily of managerial, administrative, or supervisory nature.
  • Despite the Tribunal concluding that the respondent employees are technically qualified, (ITI persons, it does not automatically categorize them as performing supervisory or managerial functions. 
  • During the annual performance appraisal processes, the employees were explicitly engaged in performing administrative functions even if they fell within the lowest ranks. Therefore, their duties place them within the management cadre of the company. 
  • The initial burden of proof of proving themselves as workmen u/s 2(s) falls upon the employees themselves, which they failed to do as only one person who was deposed on behalf of all the employees, later withdrew himself from the proceedings. 
  •  The Industrial Tribunal did not take into consideration various material documents pertaining to the recruitment process, duty lists, performance appraisal, and management cadre emoluments, produced by the petitioner which could have influenced the outcome. 
  • The order of the Industrial Tribunal does not align with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Burmah Shell Oil Storage and Distribution Company of India Ltd. v. Burmah Shell Management Staff Association & Ors. as the evidence laid by the petitioner about the nature of duties performed by the respondent employees remained unchallenged during cross-examination. 

ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE RESPONDENT:

  • The test to determine the employment status of the respondent employees u/s 2(s) of the Industrial Disputes Act applied by the Industrial Tribunal was correct and justifies the classification of respondent employees as workmen. 
  •  The testimony of witness Sachin Jadhav was highlighted to describe the nature of work performed by each employee. 
  • During the cross-examination, the petitioner’s witnesses admitted that the employees’ roles were within the K-band, i.e., the lowest band in the company’s hierarchy. 
  • There was evidence to prove the duties of workmen as per the provisions of IDA being discharged by the employees.   

JUDGEMENT ANALYSIS:

  • The High Court observed that the amendments in 1956 and 1982 expand the definition of ‘workman’ under the Industrial Disputes Act to include supervisory and technical categories.  
  • The Supreme Court judgment in the case of Burmah Shell Oil (supra) based the determination of workman status on whether the work fell within manual, clerical, supervisory, or technical categories. The ruling in the case of A. Sundarambal v. Govt. of Goa, Daman and Diu reaffirmed that a person must fall within the defined categories to fall under the specified categories to qualify as a ‘workman’ under the IDA. 
  • The designation or the salary of the employee becomes irrelevant as emphasis is placed on the actual work performed by the employee for the determination of his ‘workman’ status. 
  • It was opined by the High Court that the role of the employee must be taken into account for determining workman status of the employee rather than the additional duties performed by him. 
  • The Court held that the presence of subordinates whose work requires supervision is necessary to establish a supervisory role. Whether an employee performs the duty of a supervisor is a question of fact. 
  • Mr. Sachin Desai, who testified on behalf of the respondent, stated that the employees were categorized into 5 bands, k-band being the lowest. The predominant work of the employees was to operate machines, but the K-band employees were the only ones required to do so, and was based on the instructions of their superiors. During the cross-examination, he was not contradicted. 
  •  However, the petitioner’s witness admitted that the K-band was the lowest of the hierarchy, possessing ITI qualifications and having passed the 10th standard examinations. 
  • He even acknowledged that any issues faced by the K-band were addressed by the supervisors, and they did not possess the authority to sanction or recommend leaves, make policies, or appoint or terminate employees. Ultimately, he admitted that 26 respondent employees were not provided with any duty list. 
  • It was found that the employees were engaged in manual, skilled, and unskilled work but there was no evidence suggesting the employees’ requirement to supervise except some trainees who worked under them. 
  • Although the Tribunal was not meticulous in its consideration of evidence, the High Court deemed it non-fatal as the ultimate conclusion of recognizing 26 employees as workmen u/s 2(s) of IDA was correct. 
  • It was concluded by the Court that since the employees did not fall under 4 exceptions, they could be held as ‘workmen’. 
  • The ruling of the Industrial Tribunal was upheld and the writ petition was dismissed. 

CONCLUSION:

The High Court upheld the decision of the Industrial Tribunal, stating that the Tribunal was right in the classification of the respondent employees as workmen under section 2(s) if the Industrial Disputes Act. The Court affirmed the Tribunal’s judgment and found no need for interference under Articles 226 and 227 of the Constitution as the order did not fall under the category of manifest error or an order passed in clear ignorance or disregard of provisions of law or resulting in gross injustice. Subsequently, the writ petition was dismissed with no order as to costs.
 

 
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