Industrial Relations
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The article is written by Gaurav Purohit and further updated by Rachna Kumari. The article provides a comprehensive analysis of Industrial Relations. This article entails the Industrial Relations Code 2020 and the Code’s implications for industrial relations, augmented with contemporary cases. 

This article has been published by Shashwat Kaushik.


In simpler terms, Industrial relations manage the worker and employer connection so as to solve disputes and to diminish the opportunity of disputes towards establishing a healthy workplace. Nowadays it has become a sole obligation to every single industry to develop and maintain the latest and powerful administration relations framework to make employees motivated, satisfied and efficient. Presently Industrial relations management framework often modifies all the business and is making their employees aware; the administration of Industrial relation is an imperative issue since it generally increases the cooperation of employer and employees for powerful and effective working conditions.

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This article looks at a moderately ignored element of Industrial connection in India, specifically judicial intervention in disputes in the industry. Through cross-examination of intervention in the judiciary in capital-labour disputes. Through a broad contextual analysis of court decisions from labour tribunals to the High Court to Supreme Court wherever applicable, the article arranges the answers to these inquiries in the exceptional context. In brief, the role played by the judiciary is brilliant in the areas of the working or labour class. The judiciary is considered as the gatekeeper and defender of the Constitution so it is in like manner its obligation to secure the basic rights of the citizens in India. Indian labour laws are made to characterise obvious relations among employees and managers. Indian labour laws are made to shield the interests of the workers. 

Minimum Wages Act, 1948, Factories Act, 1948, Maternity Benefits Act, 1961, Payment of Bonus Act, 1965 are some significant labour laws in India. These laws have several provisions to safeguard the interests of workers of organised and unorganised sectors in India. Labour provided under the concurrent (where both central and state government has the power to make laws) list of the Indian Constitution. In the outbreak of the COVID-19, several states have given many relaxations in the labour laws in the favour of the businesses or investors with the goal that foreign investment can be attracted in their states. This relaxation caused infringement of labour laws in India.

Introduction to industrial relations

Productivity in any organisation is the result of the joint efforts of two important components, specifically technological and Human Resources. The factor of production other than labour can be manipulated very easily. Nonetheless, the human viewpoint in an organisation is the hardest to manage or manipulate in an appropriate perspective. The human components are the causes and the consequences of the interaction, social issues, obligations, duties, and different activities. The high pace of growth of industries, expanded technological development and complex nature of the jobs made the labour force of an organisation the source of competitive achievement.

Industrial relations is that field of study which examines the relationship among the administration and the employees of an organisation at the workplace and furthermore gives an instrument to settle down the different industrial disputes. This idea developed in the late nineteenth century due to the Industrial Revolution. The industry can be seen as economic activity i.e manufacturing, creating or processing of goods or service or administrations which is performed by a group of people. Relations refer to the connection and communication which relates between the business and the employer within the workplace.

The term Industrial Relations contains Industry and Relations. Industry implies any activities related to production in which an individual is engaged. It incorporates – 

  1. Primary exercises like farming, fisheries, plantation, horticulture, mining, etc.
  2. Secondary services like assembling, manufacturing, trade, transport, business, banking etc.

Economically, industry implies the secondary sector where factors of production land, labour capital and enterprise of four M’s – Men, Materials, Money, Machines that are beneficially utilised with the end goal of production, and where a business organisation exists. Relations imply the relations that exist in the business between the employees and his labour force.

Historical context to industrial relations

The Industrial Revolution in the 17th and 18th centuries was a transition to introduce new manufacturing processes in Europe and the USA to increase production. It involved prioritising machinery over hand production. The rise of factories and mass production led to harsh working conditions, child labour, and long working hours. Due to the hectic working hours that lasted as long as fourteen hours a day, workers had very little time to sleep, let alone relax and spend quality time with their families and friends. Such exploitation of workers gave rise to the Chicago labour movement in 1864, which demanded a cap on daily working hours and a limit of eight hours of work per day. From here began the discussion on the rights of workers in the USA and other European countries. 

In the Indian context, during the pre-1920s, the nation observed a gradual shift of labourers from rural to urban areas. The government introduced penal laws to secure labour supply and discipline. The Workmen’s Breach of Contract Act, 1859, imposed fines for breach of employment contract and allowed the passing of such orders that mandate specific performance of a service contract. Post World War I, strong nationalist movements started to emerge, and labour unions were formed that strongly advocated for worker’s rights, collective bargaining, safer working conditions, etc. The most important development in the workers’ movement was the formation of the All India Trade Union Congress under the leadership of Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Lala Lajpat Rai. Further, N.M. Joshi’s and B.P. Wadia’s contribution to the formation of the International Labour Organisation in 1919 acted as a catalyst for acknowledging the rights of workers and the formation of trade unions. The Trade Union Act, 1926, recognised trade unions as legal associations and laid down certain conditions for the registration and regulation of the activities of trade unions. It also provides civil and criminal immunity to leaders of trade unions if the activity done by the trade union was lawful and legitimate. Such provisions are present in the current Industrial Relations Code, 2020, as well, which we shall discuss in detail. During the independence struggle and the period of great economic depression, there was a rise in unemployment, which led to an increase in the number of strikes. Further, during World War II, there was considerable industrial unrest and a spike in strikes. Legislations were directed more towards the control of labour than towards the settlement of grievances. An example of this is Section 49A of the Bombay Industrial Disputes Act, which mandated arbitration for all industrial disputes and imposed a blanket ban on all strikes and lockouts. After independence, a number of protective legislations were passed, such as the Factories Act 1948, Minimum Wages Act 1948, Employees’ State Insurance Act 1948, Plantations Labour Act 1951, Employees’ Provident Fund and Miscellaneous Provisions Act 1952, etc. 

These Acts led to a decline in the number of strikes as the condition of workers improved. However, there was a widespread perception that the labour laws were overregulated in India, which imposed severe restrictions on the ability of the Indian economy to develop. A New Economic Policy, 1991, was introduced, encompassing liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation. The neoliberal policies weakened the power of trade unions, outlawed strikes, individualised labour relations, privatised public enterprises, and provided employers with the freedom to hire and fire workers. 

Prior to the enactment of the four Labour Codes, namely, Industrial Relations Code 2020,  Occupational Safety, Health, and Working Conditions Code 2020, Social Security Code 2019, and Code on Wages 2019, there existed outdated laws governing the labour market and workforce. The cumbersome and intricate existing laws made the legislature realise the need to consolidate these laws into four codes. The new labour codes that replace 29 existing laws have been designed with the primary objective of enhancing the ease of conducting business in the country, improving industrial relations, and contributing to the growth of the country.

Literature review of industrial relations

  1. Abhishek Gupta (2014) in his investigation entitled, ‘Trade Unions and Industrial Relations’, has portrayed that, in the course of the most recent 20 years, there has been significant discussion about the effect of trade unions on productivity, and the ramifications of various kinds of labour market arrangements for economic performance. The best method of improving competitiveness is to weaken the trade unions and eliminate the regulatory structures and rules that confine or restrict managerial decisions making. This research has reviewed a central issue to come into view is the significance of the industrial relations environment in improving performance in organisations. A positive and cooperative labour management relationship, with extensive joint decision making which appears to be advantageous to greater efficiency of the organisation.
  2. Sian Moore and Stephanie Tailby (2015) communicated their perspectives in his research paper under title heading ―’The changing face of employment relations: equality and diversity’. The standard of this paper is to investigate what has befallen the idea and truth of equal pay over the past 50 years in the UK. It does as such with regards to women employment levels dependent on labour market participation however their continued over representation in part-time employment, finding the narrowed yet relentless by and overall sex pay gap in the UK. At long last, this paper recommends the need for a legal structure so as to set up equality in wages.
  3. Priya Shrivastava (2015), ‘The New Age Path of Industrial Relations’, has portrayed that the fundamental architecture of the Indian Revenue Service was set up before Independence and extras generally left untouched. The idea of this framework is profoundly concentrated and the Govt. is the fundamental mediator between capital and labour. This article gives a broad overview of industrial relations and the labour market reform debate that arises in the context of economic changes in this Country. The structure of the Indian labour market, the overwhelming size of the informal or unorganised labour force and its area outside the industrial framework is the key test confronting Indian Indian revenue service.
  4. Archna Bhat and Ravikant Swami (2014) depicted the propensity of industrial clashes in our nation, directly from the monetary changes because of changes in composition and structure base. This research found that the number of work disputes, man-days lost, and labourers association in disputes indicated a gradual decline over the recent years. The quantities of labourers engaged with strikes were more than the number of workers engaged with lockouts and the man-days lost in lockouts were more than the man-days lost in strikes. Intolerance, indiscipline and brutality were discovered to be the prime reasons for industrial disputes. Losses in production were higher in the private sector than in the public sector. The examination inferred that financial reforms positively have moved the power in the hands of the employees.

Objectives of industrial relations

Two goals of Industrial relations are to safeguard industrial peace and harmony between the management and the workforce and to secure the cooperation of all departments in industry. 

If we need to build up industrial harmony and peace, the labourers must be guaranteed reasonable wages, good working conditions, sensible working hours, provision for holidays and basic necessities of life.

Scope of industrial relations

Employer-employee relations 

The relationship that relates between the entrepreneur and the employees of a specific organisation is known as the employer-employee relationship. To keep good relations, the business must treat the workers decently and should value their efforts. 

Additionally embracing the different human resource strategies like worker relations programs, promotions based on the performances of workers, making them productive employees the stakeholder of the organisation. 

Group relations 

The communication and interactions between the workers having a place with various workgroups are studied under group relations. 

Labour relations 

In an organisation, the relationship shared by the managers and the labourers is named as work relations. It incorporates their conduct, thoughts, activities and perception against one another. 

Public relations

It is also known as community relations. The communication and relationship of the organisation i.e., its proprietor, the board and the employees with the general public or external bodies are known as public relations and for the long term existence in the business, each organisation has to maintain cordial public ties.

Industrial relations and Labour Laws

The Ministry of Labour and Employment looks to secure and protect the interests of labourers when all is said in done and the individuals who comprise poor people, deprived and disadvantaged sections of the society, specifically, with due respect to establishing a solid workplace for higher production and productivity of labours, and creating and organising vocational skill training and employment services. 

Government’s consideration is likewise centred around the advancement of welfare activities and giving social security to the workforce both in the unorganised and organised sectors, in tandem with the process of liberalisation. These targets or objectives are sought to be accomplished through enactment and execution of different labour laws, which regulates the terms and conditions of service and employment of workers.

Role of industrial relations

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, organisations gave less consideration to the workers’ relationship with the administration and with one another. They regarded the workers as machines and focused on their production capacity and productivity. Afterwards, in the year 1920, John R. House presented the idea of Industrial relations, which underlined the effect of work relations with the administration and the business on the efficiency of the organisation. 

In the modern-day world related to business where the companies are turning out to be more people-oriented and work constantly for accomplishing employee retention and satisfaction, the study of industrial relations plays a huge role in the organisations.

Important laws related to industrial relations  

  1. Employment State Insurance Act, 1948: ESI card is given, safeguarding workers against any accidents at work. There’s likewise ESI Corporation. 
  2. Employees Provident Fund and Miscellaneous Provisions Act,1961: Provident fund is one in which a worker pays part of his wage mostly 12 per cent and equivalent contribution is done by the business. This is required for establishments which are employing in excess of 20 individuals.
  3. Factories Act, 1948 
  4. Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act,1986  prohibited kids who are below the age of 14 to work in dangerous or hazardous jobs. There are demands for complete restriction on child labour. 
  5. Industrial Disputes Act – One significant provision – Industries who are employing more than 100 individuals cannot terminate the employment before the approval of the government. There is a very strong demand from the industry to revise or amend this limit to encourage easy entry and exit. 
  6. Minimum Wages Act, 1948
  7. Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act,1976 – System in which one-time payment was made by the employer to the supplier or the head of the group and services of labour are taken for the whole season or whole year. This system is still rampant in some businesses, for example Brick Kilns.
  8. Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970 – Contract labour is in an indirect way employed by an establishment through the agency or a contractor. So their relationship with the main organisation becomes confusing and ambiguous. They are discriminated against by direct employees in terms of job security, status and wages etc. This Act was established to abolish it in certain circumstances and to make them skilled labourers and bring them at par with the direct employees.

Introduction to Industrial Relations Code

In order to codify the various labour laws in the country, the Parliament passed the new labour codes. Apparently, the main objective of these labour codes is to ensure that workers receive security, health security, gender equality, ease the lives of interstate migrant workers, and improve the relations between employers and workers by improvising the business simultaneously.

The IR Code, 2020, received the President’s assent on September 28, 2020. The IR Code consolidated and amended the Trade Unions Act, 1926; the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946; and the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947


Section 2(zr) of the Industrial Relations (hereinafter referred to as “IR”) Code defines a worker as “any person 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”. Any person who earns less than Rs.18,000 a month falls under the definition of a worker, even if he/she is employed in a supervisory capacity. 

Trade Unions

Article 19(1)(c) of the Constitution of India empowers citizens to form associations or unions. Section 2(zl) of the IR Code defines trade unions  as “any combination, whether temporary or permanent, basically formed to regulate the relations between workers and employers, between workers and workers, or between employers and employers”. Chapter III of the IR Code entails provisions regarding trade unions and states provisions with regard to registration of trade unions, criteria for registration, provisions to be contained in the constitution of rules of trade unions, grounds for cancellation of registration, etc. As we know, there is always a huge power parity between workers and employers; it becomes quintessential to represent the workers and their concerns to avoid exploitation of workers. 

Considering the power gap between workers and employers, it can be observed that workers used to collectively go on a strike and freeze the working of factory/industry or industries until the employer addressed their grievances. The strike causes a sudden stoppage in production and leads to economic losses for the employer. For a quick redressal of workers’ grievances, under Section 14, it is mandatory to have a negotiating union or a negotiating council in an industrial establishment. Such a negotiating union shall be recognised by the employer, and in case of any grievances, the council will discuss/negotiate with the employer to address the issues faced by the workers. 

With regards to trade unions, efforts have been made to retain their powers, but viz-a-viz limits them from making decisions that do not serve the interests of the workers and put an unnecessary burden on the employer. 

Immunity to Trade Unions

  1. Under Section 16 of the IR Code, no suit or legal proceeding shall be maintainable in any civil court against any registered trade union for any act done in contemplation or furtherance of an industrial dispute in which a member breaks his/her contract of employment. A registered trade union cannot be held liable for any tortious act done in contemplation or furtherance of an industrial dispute. 

N.M. Joshi and B.P. Wadia represented India in the Washington conference of 1919 that led to the formation of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). In 1921, the workers of Buckingham and Carnatic Mills went on a strike for better wages and working conditions. Mr. B.P. Wadia was actively involved in that strike. An injunction was issued against Mr. Wadia for inducing the workers to commit a breach of their employment contract. This clearly shows that during British rule, trade unions were not free from civil liabilities. 

On March 1, 1921, N.M. Joshi introduced a resolution in the Central Legislative Assembly for the Trade Unions Act stating that the TU Act will ensure good and proper rules, appointment of necessary officials, legal status of trade unions and strikes done by the unions, etc. Further, it will ensure that trade union officials are not subjected to any civil or criminal proceedings for standing up for the workers’ cause. 

It is imperative to note that one of the trade union activities is to declare a strike, and this has been recognised all over the world as a legitimate weapon of collective bargaining. Strikes are an integral part of “bona fide trade union activity”. Unless the employer faces economic losses, it is very difficult to bring him/her to the negotiation table and address the issues faced by the workers. 

Standing orders

Under the new code, the minimum number of workers employed in an establishment to have standing orders has been increased to 300. The increased threshold would ensure that employers have more flexibility to hire and fire. As per the government, this would lead to an increase in employment. For a better understanding of standing orders, one can refer to this article. 

Strikes and lock-outs

Section 62 of the IR Code specifies the conditions within which workers cannot go on a strike and employers cannot lock-out any of their workers. It mentions that a person employed in an industrial establishment cannot go on a strike without giving a prior notice of sixty days before going on a strike, or within fourteen days of giving notice of strike, before the expiry of the date of strike specified in the notice during the pendency of any conciliation proceedings before a conciliation officer and seven days after the conclusion of the proceedings, during the pendency of any arbitration proceedings before an arbitrator and sixty days after the conclusion of such proceedings. 

This is one of the most criticised provisions of the IR Code, as according to the trade unions, it takes away the workers’ right to strike. However, Labour and Employment Minister Santosh Kumar Gangwar said that “the government has not taken away the workers’ right to strike.” He also added that the notice period gives the two parties a chance to resolve the dispute. 

Section 62(2) discusses the conditions under which an employer can/cannot lock-out any of his workers. The conditions are the same as those for the workers before going on a strike. 

Now, the question arises whether workers are entitled to wages when they’re on strike, as on the face of it, they are not performing their duty and are violating their employment contract. The Supreme Court has given certain judgements in this line. In the cases of Churakulam Tea Estate v. Workmen (1969) and Crompton Greaves Ltd. v. Its Workmen (1979), the Supreme Court held that strikes are a legal weapon available to workers. However, the workers are entitled to their wages only if the strike was legal and justified. Any deviation from the law would render the strike illegal and would disentitle the workers to wages. In the case of Bank of India v. T.S. Kelawala and Ors. (1990), the SC held that workers are entitled to pay only for the time they actually work, and the employer is entitled to cut wages when workers are sitting idle on a strike. The deduction of wages was justified and the SC reiterated the principle of “no work, no pay”. 

Finally, in the case of Syndicate Bank v. K. Umesh Nayak (1994), it was held that to claim wages during the strike period, the strike must be legal, and it must establish its legality according to the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. 

Difference between Strike and Lock-out

Strike Lock-out 
Section 2(zk) of the IR Code defines strike as “a cessation of work by a body of persons employed in any industry acting in combination, or a concerted refusal, or a refusal, under a common understanding, of any number of persons who are or have been so employed to continue to work or to accept employment, and includes concerted casual leaveon a given day by fifty per cent. or more workers employed in an industry”Section 2(u) of the IR Code defines Lock-out as “the temporary closing of a place of employment, or the suspension of work, or the refusal by an employer to continue to employ any number of persons employed by him”. 
It is essentially done to compel the employer to address the grievances of the workers. The grievances generally include demands for better wages, improving working conditions, etc. There can be many reasons why an employer may initiate a lock-out such as financial distress, where the employer needs to cut down the costs and reduce labour expenses for the survival of the businessto prevent a strike where the employer anticipates a strike to be done by workers. This is done to maintain control over the situation. safety concerns can be another reason. As we observed in the situation during the COVID-19 pandemic where it was necessary to maintain social distance. 
The primary objective of a strike is to bring the employer or management to the negotiation table and address the workers’ concerns. Lockouts are generally a weapon used by employers to gain an upper hand over the workers by putting them in psychological distress. 
Section 62(1) of the IR Code prohibits workers from going on a strike without giving a prior notice of sixty days. Section 62(2) of the IR Code prohibits employers to lock-out any of their workers without giving a prior notice of sixty days. 
The strike should be legal and justified if the workers wish to claim wages during the strike period. The workers are entitled to wages if a lock-out is illegal. 

Lay-off, Retrenchment, and Closure

Chapter IX of the IR Code deals with the provisions relating to lay-off, retrenchment, and closure. Whenever a worker whose name is borne  on the muster rolls of an industrial establishment and who has completed more than one year of continuous service under an employer is laid off, the worker shall be paid by the employer for all days during which he is laid off, except for the weekly holidays. The compensation shall be equal to fifty percent of the total of the basic wages and dearness allowance that the worker would have got if he wasn’t laid off. A worker will not be given compensation if he refuses to accept any alternative employment in the same establishment from which he has been laid off. 

A worker who has been working at any establishment for more than a year cannot be retrenched without a prior notice of one month in writing stating the reasons for retrenchment. 

If an employer intends to close down his establishment, he shall serve a notice intimating the date of the intended closure at least sixty days prior to the actual closure. 

Unfair labour practices

Unfair labour practices refer to those practices which an employer or worker can use to evade his/her responsibilities towards each other. Section 84 of the IR Code prohibits employers, workers, and trade unions from committing any unfair labour practice specified under the second Schedule of the Code. 

An example of unfair labour practice can be found in the case of Sunil Pralhad Khomane And Ors v. M/S. Bajaj Auto Ltd (2020). Here, the employer used to hire workers on a rotational basis from a pool of workers for a period of 240 days so that the workers do not complete one year of employment at the establishment and the employer could evade providing permanent employment to the workers. When one group of workers came close to an appointment of one year, the employer used to give them a break and hire workers from the second group. The Bombay High Court held that it is an unfair labour practice and directed the employer to pay interest at the rate of 8 percent per annum on the amount calculated as above from 11 September 2003 till 2021. 

Role of judiciary in industrial relations

The role of the Judiciary is of extreme importance in giving social justice to the labourers by the famous appointed judges. Like Justice Krishna Iyer in the specific case of Indian Express Newspapers Pvt. Ltd. vs. Indian Express Newspaper Employees Union(1984) said that Industrial jurisprudence is not static, textually cold or rigid but it is dynamic in nature and warm with life. It answers in emphatic negative to the biblical cross-examination. The Industrial Tribunal of India in the territories abandoned by precise block letter law, which goes by the Constitutional mandate of providing social justice in the claims of the little people. It can be observed here that in-state some ideas or values will be followed and they can be achieved through different laws. These values are of utmost importance to the society because by these values the state plans to mould the society. In India, these values are known as Fundamental Principles which are given in the Constitution.

Industrial Jurisprudence is a mixture of two words ‘Industry’ and Jurisprudence. The term Jurisprudence is derived from the Latin word ‘Jurisprudentia’ and is a blend of ‘Juris’ and prudence which in a real sense signifies knowledge of the law. This conventional and essential sense of law incorporates the entire body of legal doctrine. Holland portrays it as the ‘formal science of positive law’ and Allen as the Scientific synthesis of the important principles of law. As indicated by Patten; Jurisprudence is a specific method of study and not of the law of one nation but rather of the overall thought of the law itself which isn’t fundamentally keen on cataloguing uniformities, nor in finding rules which all countries acknowledge, yet to contemplate the idea of law, the nature of legal institutions and their relationship with the general public.

The Supreme Court in India and High Courts under the boundaries of Constitutional Philosophy has played a special role through their power of Judicial review which has offered to reform the techniques, approaches and interpretations as opposed to attitudes which are adopted by the employers gradually and systematically new industrial jurisprudence as grown with a decisive thought of social justice. The Contributions made by higher Judiciary in India in this direction has been positive. Confidence in the rule of law propels us to comprehend the implications of Constitutional Law in labour relations and industrial adjudication as in regard to Industrial Jurisprudence it is said that Constitutional law is the standard to the advancement of Industrial Jurisprudence in India. The Industrial Jurisprudence is highly value-oriented and seeks to attain just and social order. The Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 desired in achieving social and economic justice which is the main objective of industrial Jurisprudence.

The Judiciary has pronounced landmark decisions in regard to many elements contacting the field of employer-employee relations. As due to new interpretations the whole industrial philosophy has undergone a radical change. 

Among the landmark cases, the meaning of Industry was interpreted in the case of Bangalore Water Supply & Sewerage v. R. Rajappa & Ors.(1978). Following was the position prior and then afterwards the industry was redefined by the Apex court in 1978.

Revolutionary decisions which influenced industrial relations choices influencing industrial relations 

 The industry has gone through an exceptional change because of quick industrialisation. The new idea of industry needs to oblige all the modern needs without much dislocation and disorganisation of the society and also keeping the ideas of a welfare state in mind. 

The term Industry was characterised in Section 2(j) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 and clarified generally in D.N. Banerjee vs. P.R. Mukherjee(1952) was as per the following: 

Where there is a systematic activity, organised by cooperation among employer and employee, the direct and substantial element is commercial representative, the direct and substantial component is business, for the production and distribution of goods and services to satisfy human wants and needs like making on a large scale there will be an industry in that particular enterprise.

Absence of profit intention or gainful objective is insignificant be the venture in the general public, joint, private or any other sector.  The true concentration in functional and the decisive test is the idea of the activity with special emphasis on the relations between employer and employee. If the organisation is a trade or business it does not stop to be one on account of philanthropy maintaining the undertaking. But on 21st February 1978, the Supreme Court in its seven judges bench overruled the several landmark cases like: 

(i)  The Management Of Safdarjung Hospital v. Kuldip Singh Sethi(1970)

(ii) The National, Union Of Commercial v. M. R. Meher, Industrial Tribunal(1962)

(iii) Secretary, Madras Gymkhana Club v. Management Of The Gymkhana Club(1967)

(iv) University Of Delhi & Anr vs Ram Nath(1963) 

The Supreme Court, in the above mentioned cases interpreted the law with regards to what is an industry, which still is in power in industrial corridors, the way things are in the wake of the Amendment Act,1982 and notice date. 21.8.84. In this manner, 1978 is considered as a new era period as regards the understanding of the term ‘Industry’ set down in the case, Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board vs. A Rajappa and others(1978). This case is prominently called the Bangalore Water Supply Case. The Bangalore Water Supply Case set down after rules to decide if the said establishment is an Industry or not. As per the High Court, all things considered, the idea of the expression ‘industry’ has been put on an exceptionally wide canvas. In this way, the individuals who fight that a specific establishment isn’t an industry should satisfy the Court that the particular establishment falls outside the limits as recommended by the Supreme Court. 

In the case of Western India Automobile Association vs. Industrial Tribunal(1949) had brought up that in light of a legitimate concern for social justice with the end goal of securing harmony and peace between the manager and the workmen industrial adjudication imposes new obligations or abolishing the old ones or after the current terms and condition of employment in the event that it thought to do as such. This opinion of the Federal Court was upheld in the same manner by the Supreme Court in Bharat Bank Ltd. vs. the Employees of Bharat Bank Ltd(1950) and other cases.

In the post-independence period, India adopted the philosophy of economic and social justice and the production target by introducing a scheme of the mixed economy to avoid the loss of production which is caused by the recurring industrial strike. Hence, the government adopted a lockout ban policy to maintain the peace and harmony in the industry with quasi-democratic measures which would assure the workers association in non-important issues.

The Government of India presented a system of compulsory conciliation and adjudication machinery to achieve the goal of industrial peace, social justice and productivity as there are some workers who are weak and also incapable to bargain with the employer and settle the disputes. With a view to promoting industrial democracy, the judiciary made new dimensions in the maintenance of industrial relations. 

In the case of J.K. Iron and Steel Company Ltd. vs. Iron and Steel Mazdoor Union(1955) , the Supreme Court laid down that the decision of the Tribunal must be based on established principles and not import any thought of alleged justice or compulsion to safeguard the workman interest. Justice Bose stated that undue advantage to the labourer should not be given by evolving the idea of socio-economic justice.

Justice Hidayatullah noticed in the case of Rashtriya Mill Mazdoor Sangh vs. Apollo Mills Ltd.(1960), that social justice did not depend on legally binding relations (contractual relations) and is not to be implemented on the principles of contracts of service, and it is something outside these principles and is invoked to do justice without a contract to back it.

In the case of Standard Vacuum Refining Company vs. Its Workmen(1960), SC explained the transformation of ideas and conception of labour, the doctrine of welfare state confined and that it is rooted deeply in the country’s progressive philosophy of government assistance state-bound and directed profoundly in the country’s which rendered the concept of the tradition of laissez-faire supreme and where the social consciousness of the general community becomes more dynamic and alive, the policy of the welfare state becomes more dynamic. The labour problem ceases to be purely arithmetical and physical satisfaction.

In the case of J.K. Cotton Spinning and Weaving Mills Company Ltd. vs. Labour Appellate Tribunal(1963), it was observed by the court that the goal or object of industrial adjudication is to help the progress and growth of the economy of the country.

In the case of B.R. Singh vs. Union of India(1989), Justice Ahmadi was of the view that the right to strike can’t be compared to that of the fundamental right. Strike in a given circumstance is a type of demonstration. There are various methods of demonstration, eg. Go-slow, sit in, work to rule, non-attendance,  and work. A strike is one such method of the demonstration by the workers for their rights. The right to demonstrate and thus the right to strike is a significant weapon in the armoury of the workers. The right has been perceived by practically all democratic nations. Though not raised to the high platform of a fundamental right, it is perceived as a method of redress for settling the complaints of the workers. However, the right to strike isn’t absolute under our industrial jurisprudence and restrictions have been set under it.

In the case of State of Madras vs. C. Parthasarathi(1952), it was observed by the court that the Government has power in the interest of industrial production to set the machinery of the settlement of disputes in motion without pausing to inquire about what the specific points of the disputes were.

Contemporary cases 

In Re: Problems and Miseries of Migrant Labourers (2020)

In this case, the Hon’ble Supreme Court took suo motu cognizance of the challenges faced by migrant labourers during the pandemic and the lockdown imposed throughout the country. The Court directed the government to provide food, shelter, and transportation to migrant workers.

Gujarat Mazdoor Sabha v. The State of Gujarat (2020)

In this case, the State of Gujarat, in response to the economic challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, issued a notification in May 2020 that allowed factories in the state to increase the daily working hours for factory workers from eight hours to twelve hours. This notification was issued under the Factories Act, 1948, which governs the working conditions in factories. Gujarat Mazdoor Sabha argued that increasing the daily working hours was a violation of workers’ rights and safety. The HC of Gujarat upheld the government’s notification and allowed factories to extend their working hours. It held that a pandemic qualifies as a ‘public emergency’ under the Factories Act. Further, the Supreme Court set aside the High Court’s decision and held that the COVID-19 pandemic does not fall under the category of ‘public emergency’. Interpreting ‘public emergency’, the Supreme Court held that  “public emergency” means a grave emergency whereby the security of India or any part of the territory thereof is threatened, whether by war, external aggression, or internal disturbance. The COVID-19 pandemic did not involve any war, external aggression or internal disturbance like situations. 

Ficus Pax (P) Ltd. v. Union of India, (2020) 

In this case, a writ petition was filed by multiple employers and employers’ associations questioning the orders issued under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, and other consequential orders issued by different States where directions were issued mandating all industrial, shops, and commercial establishment employers to pay wages to their workers without any deduction for the period their establishments were under closure during lockdown. The employers claimed that their business was reduced to a level of near 5-6% and that it was difficult for them to provide wages for the period of lockdown. Further, the employers argued that the orders are irrational, arbitrary, and unreasonable and go against the principles of equal work, equal pay, and no work, no pay. The Hon’ble SC acknowledged that both industry and labourers need each other. No industry or establishment can survive without workers and vice versa. The court held that efforts should be made to sort out the differences and disputes between workers and employers regarding the payment of wages. The court directed interim measures which could be availed of by all private establishments, industries, etc. The court encouraged the workers and employers to enter into negotiations and settlements regarding the payment of wages for the lockdown period. 

Maniben Maganbhai Bhariya v. District Development Officer (2022)

This case stands as a significant milestone in the context of applicability of the Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972 on Anganwadi workers/helpers. The moot question in this case was to determine the applicability of the Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972, and determine the rights of the Anganwadi workers/helpers who play a pivotal role in the society at the grassroot level. The Supreme court held that the 1972 Act would indeed apply to the Anganwadi workers. Further, the court directed the government to take the necessary steps to extend the benefits of the said Act to the eligible workers within three months from the date of judgement. 

Challenges before the new Codes

The government introduced new labour codes with numerous objectives in mind. Some of these objectives are to address the challenges existent in labour regulation, promote ease of business, ensure a balance between the rights of workers, and promote economic growth. Though the government claims that the present labour codes will contribute towards increase in employment by making it easy for employers to hire and fire workers, unlike the previous laws that were perceived as rigid and non-accommodating for the workers. The flexibility will indeed help the employers adapt to changing economic conditions; however, it might be difficult for the workers as such flexibility could lead to job insecurity. Striking a balance between the rights of workers and the liberty of employers remains a challenge. 

Another contention that is being put forth by the workers and trade unions is that the new codes are pro-employer and do not favour workers much. It is claimed that providing fourteen days prior notice to the employer before going on a strike and a prohibition on workers from going on strike during that period is taking away the right to strike of workers. 

Further, the workers of the informal sector, however acknowledged, are not given equal rights and protections as workers in the formal sector. Many workers in the informal sector lack formal contracts, which can be difficult to regulate. Even though the Social Security Code 2019 mandates the registration of unorganised, gig, platform workers, etc. but that registration is for providing welfare benefits to them. Workers from the unorganised sector would not be able to claim equal benefits as organised workers. Protection of rights, framing, and providing proper welfare schemes would be a challenge before the government. Similarly, social security is also not provided to all workers, and workers from the informal sector remain unrecognised. The overall objective of these codes was to boost the economic growth of the country. Though some proponents agree that these codes will boost economic growth, critics of these codes state that it may lead to exploitation of workers and their rights. 

Critical analysis

The introduction of the new codes aimed at simplifying and rationalising labour laws in India, which were previously complex and numerous. This simplification would reduce the compliance burden on employers and create a more business friendly environment. By providing a more consistent legal framework, these codes would attract investment, employment, and promote economic growth in the country. Arbitration, mediation, and conciliation would encourage expeditious resolution of labour disputes and would reduce the amount of time and energy spent in litigation. Though the codes preserve the rights of workers to join trade unions, The right to strike is somewhat limited. Workers need to give a prior notice of strike to the employer, and they cannot go on strike during the notice period. Further, the workers cannot go on strike during the pendency of any conciliation, tribunal, or arbitration proceedings. Furthermore, even if all the settlement methods fail, the workers cannot go directly on a strike before the end of a certain period mentioned in the IR Code. Many trade unions argue that the new codes are anti-workers. Recognising the workers of the unorganised sector is a welcome step; however, the government could have ensured rights and benefits which are equal to the workers of organised sector. On August 30, 2023, the Rajasthan government introduced the Rajasthan Platform-Based Gig Workers (Registration and Welfare) Bill, 2023, with the aim of ensuring social security for gig workers. It is indeed a commendable move, but it still fails to define gig workers as employees, which bars them from receiving regular benefits. The bill aims to create a separate database of gig workers containing the details of all workers onboarded or registered with a platform, and that data would be transferred to the proposed gig workers’ welfare board. This database doesn’t withstand ‘the duration or time of engagement with app-based platforms’. In other words, the registration remains valid indefinitely, regardless of whether the workers choose to stay with the platform or not. Due to the increasing cost of living, many individuals engage in moonlighting, which is the practice of working a second job outside normal business hours. It is generally done in order to make some extra money. The new codes do not acknowledge moonlighting, which is the need of the hour for many individuals. Even though moonlighting poses some serious challenges such as work-life balance, potential conflict of interest, etc. However, considering the economic growth and changes in the nature of work, it is essential for labour codes to evolve and address contemporary labour practices such as moonlighting. Employers and workers could enter into contractual agreements that address moonlighting, including terms and conditions. Considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on industrial establishments, Section 128 of the Occupational Safety, Health, and Working Conditions Code, 2020( OSH Code) gave the government the power to exempt any workplace, working activity or class from all or any provisions of the Code. Prior to the OSH Code, the Factories Act contained only ‘public emergency’ and ‘disaster’. The Hon’ble Supreme Court interpreted ‘public emergency’ in the case of Gujarat Mazdoor Sabha v. The State of Gujarat (2020), held that increasing the working hours from eight to twelve is not justified and the COVID pandemic does not fall under the definition of a public emergency. Apparently, the government added ‘pandemic’ to neutralise the effect of this judgement on future events.  

Lastly, as we see that there is a lot of advancement in technology and artificial intelligence is taking over many tasks done by workers, specifically in the IT sector, it is quintessential to educate the workers on increasing their skillset. With India going digital in many aspects of employment, making workers aware of financial frauds and scams is an important prerogative, and employers should be encouraged to sensitise their employees and workers. 


Labour market is significant and the most sensitive issue in our nation. While making labour reforms the officials need to consider the interest of all the stakeholders related to it. It ought not to happen that the change impacts any of the party in a manner which isn’t so acceptable or desirable. The perspective of workers needs to change and be more acceptable with regard to changes. Let them be aware that every change will not result in the loss of jobs for them or their fellow members. The Union Government as a major aspect of labour law reforms has embraced the drive to rationalise thirty eight Labour Acts by outlining four Labour codes viz. Code on Wages, Code on Social Security, Code on Industrial Relations and Code on Occupational Safety, well being and working conditions. The codification of labour Laws will eliminate an assortment of definitions and specialists promoting simplicity of compliance without compromising wage security and social security to all the workers. Trusting that this will bring updates which are applicable in the present time and the changes or reforms are not made for the sake of it. 

The Supreme Court of India assumed a significant job especially in ensuring the interest of helpless local workers by ignoring the strict legally binding laws and giving social justice to them. The role played by the Judiciary in giving justice and furthermore to the maintenance of good labour and the management relations. There is no uncertainty that justice alone can maintain relations between the representatives and employers and by which a country can accomplish productivity and industrial peace and harmony.

Industrial Relations is essential for achieving democracy as it allows the workers to take part in the management, which helps to ensure and protect the human rights of individuals. In today’s world, the organisations realise that Human resource is the biggest asset and are adopting policies like job rotation, competence building etc which promotes the overall development of the workers and hence it helps in maintaining and establishing good relations at the workplace.



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