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Rights of an individual workman to raise an industrial dispute under the Industrial Disputes Act

February 11, 2019
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In this article, Kabir Jaiswal discusses rights of an individual workman to raise an industrial dispute under the ID Act.

Can an individual dispute become an industrial dispute?

Before the introduction of Section 2-A of the Act, an individual dispute could not in itself be an industrial dispute, but it could become one if the trade union or a number of workers had been involved. The Supreme Court and the majority of Industrial Tribunals held that a dispute raised by a dismissed employee would not be treated as an industrial dispute unless it is supported by a trade union or by a body or Section of a workman.

In a landmark case of  Workmen of Dimakuchi Tea Estate v. The Management of Dimakuchi Tea Estate  SC identified two tests to determine whether a dispute was industrial or individual. They are-

Conditions under which an individual dispute becomes an industrial dispute

SC held that an individual dispute could be transformed into an industrial dispute if

1.→In order to make an individual dispute into an industrial dispute, it must be taken up by a union of employees of the establishment and, where no such union exists, it can be married by any union of workers employed in similar trade.

2.→With regard to the second condition, if an individual dispute between a worker is dealt with by a considerable number of workers of the same establishment, it becomes an industrial dispute. The court admitted that the term ” number appreciable” does not mean a majority of the workers.

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Time to raise Industrial Discrepancies

Delay to raise an industrial dispute is not a bar to a dispute ‘s reference. In Guest Keen, Williams Pvt. Ltd., Calcutta v. P.J. Sterling SC stated that the Tribunal would definitely take this fact into account when dealing with the merits of the dispute if a dispute arises after a considerable delay that is not reasonably explained.

How can an individual workman raise an industrial dispute

1. Through Grievance Settlement Authority [Sec. 9 (c)]

2. Through Trade Union

In Bombay Union of Journalists v. The Hindu  Further reduction of the industrial dispute scope. In this case, the Bombay Union of Journalists, of whom the Workers ‘ Union was a member, raised a workers ‘ dispute. The Bombay Journalists Union was not a union of one job, but of all employees in the Bombay journalism industry. Its members were none of the Hindu employees. SC held the dispute to be individual rather than industrial.

In Workmen of Dharampal Premchand v. M/S Dharampal Premchand out of the 45 workers, 18 were rejected. There was no workers union. The court said that a considerable number of workers are involved in this dispute and can, therefore, be called an industrial dispute.SC thus relaxed the requirement that an individual dispute be considered an industrial dispute and thus overruled the case of the Bombay Union of Journalists. The net effect of the above decisions is that an individual employee who is not supported by a significant number of employees or unions has no remedy under the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.

Workmen of Indian Express Newspapers Ltd. v. Management Indian Express Newspapers A dispute concerning two Indian Express Newspapers Ltd workers was raised by the Delhi Union of Journalists, which was an external union. About 25 percent of the Indian Express working journalists were members of that union. But there was no union of Indian Express journalists. It was held that the Delhi Union of Journalists had a representative character. The working journalists used Indian Express and the dispute thus became an industrial dispute.

A dispute is an industrial dispute even if it is sponsored by a union that is not registered but not unrelated to the employer or industry concerned. (Express Newspapers (Private) Ltd. v. First Labour Court, West Bengal & Others )

3. Through the Labour Court

Labour Court [Sec. 7]: The appropriate government is empowered to establish one or more Labor Courts. Its function is to settle industrial disputes concerning any matter specified in the second schedule.

The Second Schedule deals with matters within the competence of the Labor Courts:

  1. the legality of an order placed under standing orders by an employer;
  2. Use and interpretation of standing orders;
  3. Discharge or dismissal of workers including the reinstatement of workers who were wrongly dismissed or the granting of relief;
  4. Cancelation of any customary grant or privilege;
  5. Illegality or otherwise of a strike or lock-out; and

What are the possible remedies an individual workman can seek in any of the above forums?

Cordial relations between employer and employees should be maintained in the interests of the industry in particular and the national economy in general. The following methods of settling industrial disputes are provided for in the Act to ensure cordial labor-management relations and to achieve industrial harmony:

1) Collective Bargaining – Collective bargaining or negotiation is one of the ways in which industrial disputes are resolved. It plays an important role in fostering relationships between labor management and industrial harmony. Collective bargaining is a process/method by which wage problems and employment conditions are resolved in a friendly, peaceful and voluntary manner between labor and management.

2) Conciliation – Conciliation is a process through which a third party persuades parties to reach a friendly solution to the industrial dispute. This third party is called the conciliation officer of the Council of Conciliation.’ Sections 4 and 5 of the Act provide for the appointment of the Conciliation Officer and the formation of the Council.

3) Voluntarily Arbitration – The term ” arbitration” simply means ” solving or resolving a dispute outside the court.” The parties to the dispute may refer the dispute /matters on in whom they have faith to propose a friendly solution without going to the Court of Law.

Such a person who acts as a mediator between the disputants is called an arbitrator. The decision of the parties that binds the parties is called the ” Award”.

Arbitration is thus a judicial process in which one or more external parties make a binding decision on the basis of the merits of the conflict. Section 10-A of the industrial dispute law of 1947 confers the power to enter into an arbitration agreement on the parties. The agreement shall be in prescribed form and the name/ name of the arbitrator or arbitrator shall be specified.

4) Adjudication – If an industrial dispute cannot be settled either through negotiations or through the conciliation machinery or through voluntary arbitration, the final stage to which an industrial dispute can be settled is the arbitration or compulsory arbitration, which provides for government references to statutory bodies such as the Labor Court or the Industrial Tribunal or the National Court.

Section 7, 7-A and 7-B of the Industrial disputes Act, 1947 provide for the constitution of Labour Court, Industrial Tribunal and Labour Tribunal respectively.

Forums to seek remedies

1. Grievance Settlement Machinery

[Sec.19] Period of operation of settlements and awards.

2.Through the Labour Court

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