NEW COMMERCIAL MILLS CO LTD Vs. I G THAKORE PRESIDENT INDUSTRIAL COURT
LAWS(GJH)-1966-4-2
HIGH COURT OF GUJARAT
Decided on April 22,1966

NEW COMMERCIAL MILLS COMPANY LIMITED Appellant
VERSUS
I.G.THAKORE PRESIDENT,INDUSTRIAL COURT Respondents

JUDGEMENT

P.N.BHAGWATI, N.G.SHELAT - (1.) These petitions raise a short but interesting question of law relating to the construction of sec. 66 of the Bombay Industrial Relations Act 1946 (hereinafter referred to as the Act). The facts giving rise to these petitions are identical and may be briefly stated as follows. The Textile Labour Association is a representative Union for the cotton textile industry in the area of Ahmedabad and is registered as such under sec. 14 of the Act. On 22nd June 1949 a registered agreement was entered into between the Textile Labour Association and the Ahmedabad Mill Owners Association which provided various benefits including wage scales for clerks in the cotton textile industry. Clause 5 of the registered agreement provided a separate wage scale for those employees who occupy a position lower than that of a full-fledged clerk but higher than that of an operative and who have come to be known in the cotton textile industry as semi-clerks and that wage scale was Rs. 40-3-70-EB-4-90-5-105. By a further agreement made between the Textile Labour Association and the Ahmedabad Mill Owners Association on 8th August 1958 the registered agreement was modified under section 116 of the Act but the provision made in regard to semi-clerks was left unaffected. Thereafter a further modification was made in the registered agreement by mutual consent of the parties on 2nd July 1960 in order to implement the recommendations of the Wage Board and this time the provision in regard to semi-clerks was modified and as a result of the modification the wage scale of semi-clerks was revised and with a view to removing uncertainty it was laid down as to what work done by an operative should entitle him to be regarded as a semi-clerk. This last provision was added by way of modification of clause 5 of the registered agreement and sub-clauses (1) to (4) of the modified clause S which are the only clauses material for the purpose of the present petitions were in the following terms:- (1) An operative doing clerical work for at least 1/4th of his working time shall be considered as semi-clerk. Note:- Clerical work means work of writing or copying or making calculations. (2) An operative who does clerical work for more than one hour and less than 1/4th of his working time will not be treated as a semi-clerk but will be entitled to allowance of four annas per day over and above his daily rate of wages as an operative. Such persons will not be entitled to any benefits accruing from the Clerical Agreement. (3) Operatives who do clerical work for less than one hour will not be treated as semi-clerks or as operatives entitled to an allowance. (4) A Joint Committee consisting of a representative of the Ahmedabad Mill owners Association Ahmedabad and a representative of the Textile Labour Association Ahmedabad will decide disputes arising out of the implementation of items (1) and (2) above and the Committees decision shall be final. The Joint Committee will also decide applications from semi-clerks asking for promotion to the Junior Grade. Two of the employees of the New Commercial Mills Co. Ltd. which is the petitioner in Petition No. 829 of 1962 thereupon filed an application in the Labour Court under sec. 78 alleging that though they were designated as sample men they were doing writing calculating and other clerical work for more than two hours every day and hence they were entitled to be designated as semi-clerks and paid the wage scale of semi clerks according to clauses 5 of the registered agreement but the petitioner had failed to pay the wage scale of semi-clerks to them as required by clause 5 of the registered agreement and thereby committed an illegal change and praying that the petitioner should be required to withdraw such illegal change. A similar application was filed by nine of the employees of the Ahmedabad Advance Mills Co. Ltd. which is the petitioner in Petition No. 830 of 1962. Several contentions of a preliminary nature were raised on behalf of the petitioners in answer to the applications but it is not necessary to refer to them since only one contention out of them has formed the subject-matter of debate before us in these petitions and it will therefore be sufficient to refer only to that contention. It was urged on behalf of the petitioners that the disputes in these applications were covered by the submission contained in sub-clause (4) of clause 5 of the registered agreement and that the employees were therefore bound to go to arbitration as provided in that sub-clause to resolve those disputes and no applications in respect of those disputes could be maintained before the Labour Court under sec. 78 of the Act. The argument was that the submission under sec. 66 excluded the jurisdiction of the Labour Court under sec. 78 in respect of the disputes covered by the submission. The answer given on behalf of the employees to this contention was that though it might be true that if a dispute was covered by a submission made under sec. 66 the jurisdiction of the Labour Court to adjudicate upon the dispute under sec. 78 might be ousted this proposition could not avail the petitioners because the disputes raised in the applications were not covered by the submission contained in sub-clause (4) of clause 5 of the registered agreement. The ground on which this last contention was put forward was that on a true construction of sec. 66 a submission could be made under that section only in respect of a collective dispute between a representative Union and the employer and not in respect of an individual dispute which was not taken up by the representative Union and to which the representative Union was not a party and it was argued that since the disputes raised in the applications were admittedly individual disputes raised by individual employees which were not taken up by the representative Union they could not form the subject-matter of a valid submission under sec. 66 and the submission contained in sub-clause (4) of clause 5 must therefore be read as inapplicable to such disputes or else to the extent to which the submission applied to such disputes it was not warranted by the provisions of sec. 66 and hence could not have the effect of excluding the jurisdiction of the Labour Court. The Labour Court took the view that the objection to jurisdiction raised on behalf of the petitioners was well-founded and that in view of sub-clause 4 of clause 5 of the registered agreement the Labour Court had no jurisdiction to deal with the applications and it accordingly dismissed the applications. The employees thereupon preferred appeals to the Industrial Court one appeal in respect of each application. At the hearing of the appeals the respective contentions urged on behalf of the parties followed substantially the same lines as before the Labour Court and the main controversy therefore centered round the question as to the true meaning and connotation of the expression industrial dispute in sec. 66. The Industrial Court held on the strength of the decision of the Supreme Court in Newspapers Ltd. v. State Industrial Tribunal A. I. R. 1957 S. C. 532 that the expression industrial dispute as used in the Act meant only a collective dispute between workers as a class and the employer and did not include an individual dispute raised by an individual worker whose cause was not espoused by the workers as a class and since the disputes raised in the applications were admittedly individual disputes not taken up by the representative Union they were not industrial disputes and could not therefore be validly referred to arbitration under sec. 66 and consequently the jurisdiction of the Labour Court to entertain and dispose of the applications was not excluded. The Industrial Court accordingly set aside the order of the Labour Court and directed the applications to be heard on merits. This decision of the Industrial Court is now impugned before us in the present petitions.
(2.) The main ground of attack against the decision of the Industrial Court was that the disputes raised in the applications made by the employees before the Labour Court were covered by the submission contained in sub-clause (4) of clause 5 of the registered agreement and this submission being a submission within sec. 66 excluded the jurisdiction of the Labour Court under sec. 78 in respect of these disputes. This contention was based on the premise that it there is a valid submission to arbitration under sec. 66 in respect of an industrial dispute that would oust the jurisdiction of the Labour Court under sec. 78 in respect of such dispute. This premise though conceded on behalf of the employees before the Industrial Court was disputed before us and it was contended that the jurisdiction conferred on the Labour Court under sec. 78 could not be ousted by a mere agreement between parties to refer the industrial dispute to arbitration and that notwithstanding such agreement a party could exercise the statutory right conferred on him under sec. 78 to move the Labour Court for redress. The argument was that what sec. 66 provided was not a statutory arbitration but it merely authorized the parties to enter into an arbitration agreement for referring an industrial dispute to arbitration and the jurisdiction of the Labour Court under sec 78 was therefore not excluded by a submission entered into between the parties pursuant to sec. 66. This contention raised an interesting question of law relating to the construction of the provisions of the Act but in the view we are taking of the matter it is not necessary for us to decide this contention. We will assume for the purpose of the present discussion that a valid submission to arbitration under sec. 66 would exclude the jurisdiction of the Labour Court under sec. 78 in respect of the industrial dispute covered by the submission but the question is whether the disputes raised in the applications were covered by the submission contained in sub-clause (4) of clause 5 of the registered agreement and this submission constituted a valid submission to arbitration within the meaning of sec. 66. The employees contended that on a plain reading of sec. 66 a submission could be made under that section only in respect of an industrial dispute and industrial dispute within the meaning of that section meant a collective dispute between a representative Union and the employer and not an individual dispute concerning the rights of an individual workman which was not taken up by the representative Union and to which the representative Union was not a party and since the disputes raised in the applications were admittedly individual disputes raised by individual employees whose cause was not espoused by the representative Union or workmen as a class they were not industrial disputes and could not form the subject matter of a valid submission to arbitration under sec. 66. This being the position it was argued the submission contained in sub-clause (4) of clause 5 of the registered agreement must be read as inapplicable to such disputes or else the submission to the extent to which it applied to such disputes would not be a valid submission to arbitration under sec. 66 and in either event the jurisdiction of the Labour Court to entertain the applications under sec. 78 would not be ousted. The petitioners agreed that if industrial dispute referred to in sec. 66 meant only a collective dispute between workmen as a class and the employer and did not include an individual dispute concerning the rights of an individual workman which was not taken up by workmen as a class the contention of the employees would be well-founded and the submission contained in sub-clause (4) of clause 5 of the registered agreement would not constitute a valid submission to arbitration in respect of the disputes raised in the applications so as to exclude the jurisdiction of the Labour Court to entertain the applications under sec. 78 but contended the petitioners that was not the correct construction of industrial dispute in sec. 66. Having regard to the object and purpose of the Act and the scheme of its relevant provisions argued the petitioners it would be proper to interpret the expression industrial dispute in sec. 66 in a sense wider than what it bears in the Industrial Disputes Act 1947 so as to cover not only disputes of workmen as a class but also their individual disputes and if that interpretation was accepted as the correct interpretation the disputes raised in the applications though individual disputes would be industrial disputes within the meaning of sec. 66 and the submission contained in sub-clause (4) of clause 5 of the registered agreement would constitute a valid submission to arbitration in respect of those disputes ousting the jurisdiction of the Labour Court to decide those disputes. These were the rival contentions of the parties and it will be seen that the determination of the controversy thus hinged on the narrow question as to what is the true meaning and connotation of the expression industrial dispute in sec. 66.
(3.) Turning first to the definition clause we find that industrial dispute is defined in sec. 2(17) to mean any dispute or difference between an employer and employee or between employers and employees or between employees and employees and which is connected with any industrial matter. Considerable reliance was placed on behalf of the petitioners on this definition by reason of the use of the word employee in the singular and it was contended that the use of the singular showed that an individual dispute was comprehended within the expression industrial dispute as used in the Act. But this contention though apparently plausible has really no substance for it rests on too literal an interpretation of the words used in the definition and ignores several other considerations which must necessarily weigh with the Court in this task of interpretation. In the first place it must be remembered that the use of the word employee in the singular has no particular significance since under sec. 13 of the Bombay General Clauses Act 1904 ....unless there is anything repugnant in the subject or context (b) words in the singular shall include the plural and vice-versa. This provision excludes an argument based solely on the use of the singular or plural in any statutory provision. In Newspapers Ltd. v. State Industrial Tribunal A.I.R. 1957 S.C. 532 a similar argument based on the use of the word workmen in the plural in the definition of industrial dispute in sec. 2(k) of the Industrial Disputes Act 1947 was advanced before the Supreme Court in support of the view that a dispute between an employer and a single workman was not an industrial dispute within the meaning of that statute but the Supreme Court rejected that argument observing that the use of the word workmen in the plural in the definition of industrial dispute did not by itself exclude the applicability of the statute to an individual dispute because under sec. 13(2) of the General Clauses Act unless there is anything repugnant in the subject words in the singular shall include the plural and vice versa. The Supreme Court held that despite the use of the plural workmen the definition of industrial dispute standing by itself would include an individual dispute but the provisions of the statute viewed as a whole showed that an individual dispute was not intended to be included within the connotation of industrial dispute. The Supreme Court pointed out that in order to get at the true import of the expression industrial dispute as used in the statute:- ..it is necessary to view the enactment in retrospect the reasons for enacting it the evils it was to end and the objects it was to subserve. The Act has therefore to be viewed as a whole and its intention determined by construing all the constituent parts of the Act together and not by taking detached sections or to take one word here and another there. Exposition ex visceribus actus is applicable. Lincoln Colleges Case (1595) 3 Co Rep 58b:- 76ER 764. There is also another decision of the Supreme Court namely C. P. T. Service v. Raghunath A. I. R. 1957 S. C. 104 where we find the same approach was adopted by the Supreme Court in determining the true import of the expression industrial dispute as used in C. P. and Berar Industrial Disputes Settlement Act 1947. The question in this case was the same namely whether an individual dispute was covered by the expression industrial dispute and the Supreme Court held that it was so covered. The Supreme Court however in taking this view did not place any reliance on the definition of industrial dispute in sec. 2(12) of the enactment which like sec 2(17) of our present Act used the word employee in the singular but relied wholly on the scheme of the enactment the objects and purposes it was intended to subserve and its relevant provisions taken as a whole. It would not therefore be correct to infer merely from the use of the word employee in the singular in the definition of industrial dispute that an individual dispute is intended to be comprised in the expression industrial dispute as used in the Act. We would have to determine the true import of the expression industrial dispute by viewing the Act as a whole and construing the relevant provisions of the Act in the light of the surrounding circumstances and the object of the Act.;


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