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The role of the employer at stage of reference is only administrative and cannot quasi-judicial or judicial function: High Court of Delhi

An employer cannot function in a judicial or a quasi-judicial function with respect to the regulation of its employees irrespective of whether the employer can be classified as an industry or not. This was held in the judgement passed by a single member bench of the High Court of Delhi consisting of Justice Prathiba M. Singh in the case of Sapna v The Government of India [W.P. (C) 8235/2020 & CM Appl. 26694/2020] pronounced on 23rd July 2021.

The petitioner, Sapna was working as a sweeper and a peon on daily wage basis for the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Government of India in Rafi Marg, Delhi since 12th May 2007. She was initially performing her duties continuously as an unskilled labourer in the Group-D category. However after the implementation of the 6th Pay Commission, she was classified as Multi-tasking staff and merged with the Group-C category.  On 31st August 2014, the petitioner’s services were terminated after which she filed a statement of claim before the Deputy Labour Commissioner to be referred to the labour court under Section 10 of the Industrial Disputes Act. The petitioner requested the court that she be reinstated  with the back wages and continuity of services. However the Ministry of Labour and Employment submitted that they were executing a sovereign function with the Union of India and could not be classifies as an Industry under the Industrial Disputes Act.

The petitioner’s counsel cited the case of All India General Mazdoor Union v GNCTD [106 (2003) DLT 208] where the High Court of Delhi held that an administrative authority does not have the power to reject a claim  and that can only be done by the labour court under Section 10 of the Industrial Disputes Act. The court noted that it was irrelevant whether the Ministry of Labour or Employment was an industry or not as it was not a legal question related to the immediate case at hand. It was further held that the defence that Ministry was of sovereign nature could not be accepted since this sovereign function can anyhow not be stretched to the extent of employment of a sweeper or a peon.

Justice Prathiba M. Singh can be quoted as saying “This Court has perused the judgment in All India and General Mazdoor Union referred to by the Petitioner, wherein it has been clearly held that the role of the employer at the stage of reference is only administrative, and the referring Authority cannot exercise a quasi- judicial or a judicial function” and it was concluded that “the petition is allowed in the above terms. It is made clear that the observations made in this order would not bind the labour court in any manner, which would adjudicate the claim of the Petitioner and the defence taken, if any, on merits in accordance with law.”

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