Decided on August 07,1952



Subba Rao, J. - (1.) This is an application for issuing a writ of certiorari to quash the order of the Labour Appellate Tribunal of India made in App. No. 176 of 1951.
(2.) The petitioner is the Jaya Bharat Tile Works, Samalkot. It is a partnership business of which Madapati Satti Reddi is a partner. The business was started in the year 1949. On 6th December 1948, the Government of Madras referred the disputes between the workers and the management of four other factories to the Industrial Tribunal. The Tribunal gave its award on 13th August 1949 and it was accepted by the Government. The award was to be in force for one year. The term expired on 23rd Aug. 1950. On 24th Aug. 1950, that is the next year after the expiry of the period of one year from the date of the award the petitioner closed the business. The other four factories also closed their business on 25th September 1950. The petitioner reopened the factory on 13th December 1950. The Government in their order dated 27th October 1950 referred the dispute between the petitioner and other tile factories and their workers to the Industrial Tribunal, Vijayawada. It may be mentioned that the other four factories did not reopen their factories. The Industrial Tribunal by its award dated 31st March 1951 held that the closure of the tile factory was not bona fide and amounted to unfair labour practice. It gave the findings on the following terms: "I hold that the closure of the five mills was not bona fide, and that it was with a view to victimise the labour and find the issue against the Mills." The petitioner along with the others preferred appeals to the Labour Appellate Tribunal of India being App. No. 176 of 1951. The Labour Appellate Tribunal set aside the order of the Industrial Tribunal so far as the other four factories are concerned but in regard to the petitioner's factory they confirmed the order of the Industrial Tribunal. The Appellate Tribunal found, "They closed on the 24th August 1950 and reopened on the 13th December 1950. We are doubtful if the closure from 24th August which was effected in order to avoid the payment of wages at a higher rate was a closure at all. when subsequently under the same circumstances the Mill has been reopened. We are of opinion that it amounted to an unfair labour practice and effected in order to bring pressure to bear on the worker to accept lower rates." They further directed that the labourers should be reinstated and they would be paid compensation during the period of closure at the rates indicated therein until the mills reopened in respect of workmen who came back within 15 days of the award.
(3.) Mr. Narasaraju, the learned counsel for the petitioner, contended that the Industrial Tribunal had no jurisdiction to decide the disputes in respect of closure of the factory. In support of that contention he strongly relied upon a judgment of a Division Bench of this court in the --'Indian Metal & Metallurgical Corporation v. Industrial Tribunal', Madras, 1952 Mad. L. J. 481. There the petitioner was a firm carrying on business of manufacture of brass, copper and aluminium sheets at Mettur. It had also a factory at Tondiarpet, Madras, where brass and stainless steel utensils were manufactured. On 3rd February 1951 the management issued a notice to the employees to the effect that they would suspend the work for an indefinite period till they are able to complete the erection and try to get the sheets from their own plant. The work was suspended from Saturday, the nth inst. The dispute was referred by the Government to the Industrial Tribunal. One of the questions raised was whether the closure of the factory from 17th February was justified. The learned Judges after considering the provisions of the Act and the case law on the subject came to the following conclusion: "We hold therefore that the award in so far as it directs the petitioner to continue to carry on the business is void as it is inconsistent with the Constitution." They proceeded to observe: "There cannot be dispute strictly so called between an employer and an employee, as regards the continuance of the business itself. This question was completely outside the Industrial Disputes Act, and we hold that the reference by the Government was without jurisdiction and consequently the award was bad." The learned Judges in that case were not called upon to consider or decide the question namely that if a closure was in fact an illegal lock out or unfair labour practice whether the Tribunal had jurisdiction to consider that question. That question was specifically raised and considered by Balakrishna Aiyar J. in C. S. No. 448 of 1949 (Mad) though on the facts the learned Judge held that in that case there was not a lock out. The pertinent observations of the learned Judge are rather instructive and may usefully be extracted. The learned Judge says: "The lock oat is the corresponding weapon in the armoury of the employer. If an employer shuts down his place of business as a means of reprisal or as an instrument of coercion or as a mode of exercising pressure on the employees or generally speaking when his act is what may be called an act of belligerency than would be a lock-out. If on the other hand, he shuts down his work because he cannot for instance get the new materials or the fuel or the power necessary to carry out his undertaking or because he is unable to sell the goods he has made or because his credit is exhausted or because he is losing money, that would not be a lock out ..... A factory or an industry can be "sick" though not of course in the same manner as a labourer, if it is unable to pave its way ..... Where an employer suspends work and the question is whether that suspension is a lockout or not, we will have to enquire, why did he shut down." I respectfully agree with the observations. Whenever, therefore, a question arises whether a closure is in fact illegal lockout or a subterfuge adopted by employers to bring the employees to their knees, the Industrial Tribunal has to decide that question. For, if it is a lock-out or an illegal labour practice the Tribunal certainly will have jurisdiction to go into the question.;

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