The High Court of Bombay: passed a judgement on 06 June 2023. In the case of THE BHATIYA GENERAL HOSPITAL AND ANR Vs HANMANT ANANDRAO RAJE AND ORS IN WRIT PETITION NO. 11048 OF 2022 which was passed by a single bench comprising of HONOURABLE SHRI JUSTICE N. J. JAMADAR in the realm of industrial relations, disputes often arise between employers and employees regarding fair treatment, benefits, and working conditions. Resolving such disputes requires the application of relevant laws and a fair assessment of the facts at hand. This blog examines a recent judgment in which the issue of unfair labour practices was deliberated upon and offers an analysis of the legal aspects involved, including pertinent case laws.
The case in question involves a petition filed under Article 226 of the Indian Constitution, challenging a judgment and order passed by the Industrial Court in Mumbai. The court declared the employers to be engaged in unfair labour practices under Items 5, 9, and 10 of Schedule IV of the Maharashtra Recognition of Trade Unions and Prevention of Unfair Labour Practices Act, 1971 (the Act, 1971). The petitioners were directed to cease engaging in unfair labour practices, quash certain communications, and grant medical, monetary, and leave benefits to the complainants. The employers, a general hospital and its Chief Executive Officer, filed a writ petition in the higher court seeking redress. The petitioners contended that the respondents, who were initially appointed as workmen, were subsequently promoted to supervisory and managerial positions. The employers claimed that the complainants’ duties had evolved to encompass technical and operational responsibilities, which did not fall under the purview of workmen. Consequently, the employers issued a communication to rectify an error that had resulted in the complainants receiving benefits intended only for workmen. However, the respondents alleged that the changes in their service conditions were unjustified, amounting to unfair labour practices.
ANALYSIS OF THE JUDGMENT:
The primary issue before the court was whether the respondents could still be classified as workmen, despite their promotions to supervisory and managerial positions. The court examined the definition of “workman” under section 2(s) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 (the Act, 1947) and section 3(5) of the Act, 1971. It was crucial to determine the nature of the work performed by the complainants and whether it fell within the scope of the managerial, administrative, or supervisory roles that were excluded from the definition of workman.
The court found that the complainants’ duties continued to be technical and operational in nature, lacking the characteristics of supervisory or managerial control. The work performed by the complainants aligned with the definition of workman under both Acts. Moreover, the court considered the complainants’ length of service and their membership in a registered trade union, which further supported their classification as workmen.
The court then turned its attention to the employers’ claim that the changes in the complainants’ service conditions were necessary to rectify an inadvertent mistake. It held that the communication issued by the employers, altering the benefits and emoluments of the complainants, constituted unfair labour practices under Items 5, 9, and 10 of Schedule IV of the Act, 1971. The court further emphasized that any changes in service conditions should be accompanied by proper notice to the employees, which was lacking in this case.
The judgment relied on various provisions of the Acts governing labour relations. The definition of “workman” under section 2(s) of the Act, 1947 and section 3(5) of the Act, 1971 formed the cornerstone of the court’s analysis. It highlighted that the nature of the work performed by an employee, rather than their job title, is determinative in classifying them as workmen. The judgment also underscored the importance of providing notice to employees before implementing changes in service conditions to avoid unfair labour practices.
Air India Ltd v. United Labour Union & Ors., (1997) 6 SCC 125: In this case, the Supreme Court of India emphasized that the test for determining whether an employee falls within the definition of workman is the nature of the duties performed and not their designation or nomenclature.
Management of IFFCO v. Workmen, (1995) 2 SCC 785: The court held that when considering whether an employee is a workman, the primary focus should be on the nature of the duties performed rather than their title or designation.
The analysed judgment provides valuable insights into the interpretation and application of laws governing unfair labour practices and the determination of an employee’s classification as a workman. It underscores the importance of considering the actual nature of an employee’s duties in determining their legal status. Employers must exercise caution in implementing changes to service conditions and ensure compliance with labour laws to avoid unfair labour practices and potential legal consequences.
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JUDGEMENT REVIEWED BY VETHIKA D PORWAL, BMS COLLEGE OF LAW