Decided on January 21,1960

Burn And Company Ltd Appellant


- (1.) The facts in this case are shortly as follows: The Petitioner is a well-known company, having its registered office in Calcutta and its engineering factory and workshop at Howrah. At Howrah the Petitioner had at all material times, in operation, an 'incentive bonus' scheme based on production, which was called by the name of "Puraskar". Under the said scheme, additional payments were made to workmen if the production target exceeded a particular figure. In respect of the month of May, 1956 a section of the Petitioner's workmen failed to achieve that target and on June 6, 1956 the company published a notice to the effect that no "Puraskar" will be payable. On the same day, the workmen of the said department suspended work and created a noisy demonstration, demanding the payment of "Puraskar". The case of the workmen was that in a particular department a new type of wagon, namely the BOBX type, was being introduced for the first time and it being a difficult operation, the production target could not be reached, but nevertheless the company should pay the incentive bonus. On June 7, 1956 the workmen of the said department and certain other departments, entered the factory premises, stopped work and started a stay-in-strike which was illegal. While certain of the Petitioner's officers were attempting to reason with the workmen, a deputation of whom was having talks with the General Manager, the illegal strike spread to other departments and the workmen began, behaving in a disorderly manner, started shouting slogans and finally entered into the power house of the factory and forcibly stopped the transmission of power, as a result of which, the armed police had to be called in. On the same day, and the following day, the situation further deteriorated and there was tampering with the plant and machinery, as also threats of violence and intimidation of workmen, who were desirous of working. Meetings between the representative of the workmen and the Management were called, and also the Assistant Labour Commissioner intervened and asked the workmen to take recourse to conciliation. All this was, however, of no avail, and the situation became such that on June 9, 1959 the Management was compelled to declare a lock-out in so far as the hourly paid workmen were concerned. It was at this stage that the Deputy Labour Commissioner, Government of West Bengal, made certain suggestions to the company. These suggestions are contained in a letter, a copy whereof is annexed to the petition and appears at p. 58. The Deputy Labour Commissioner pointed out that in spite of various joint conferences no settlement could be reached, and as a result the works still remained closed and the workers were out of employment, a state of affairs which could not be allowed to continue indefinitely. He, therefore, made certain suggestions for acceptance of all parties concerned. A part of the suggestions which is relevant, is as follows: On the assurance given by all the four Unions at the time of the negotiation for normal and peaceful resumption of work, I suggest to both the parties (Management and the Unions) to withdraw the strike and lift the lock-out and allow all the workers to resume work under the following conditions: (a) The Management shall allow all the employees on roll, excepting those against whom they have prima facie charges of violation of their Standing Orders, to resume work. Such men, who will be charge-sheeted, will be notified earlier and they, immediately after resumption of work, shall proceed to the Labour Office to receive their charge-sheets. Such charge-sheeted persons shall remain suspended till the final decision of the Management. (b) After receiving the charge-sheets, the workers shall promptly reply to their charges and await the decision of the Management. The Management on receiving the replies to the charges, shall start enquiry and finalise their decision within the shortest possible time which under no circumstances should be more than 10 (ten) days. (c) I shall be in touch with the Management all the time and shall see that no innocent person is victimised. (d) After the enquiry is completed, the Management shall notify to the individual workmen about their decision and those, against whom charges will not be proved, shall be asked to resume work forthwith. Such men shall draw the wages from the date of the re-opening of the works. But those, who will not be taken back by the Management, will be kept under suspension and their cases will be referred to the pending tribunal for necessary permission of their dismissal under the Industrial Disputes Act.
(2.) So far as the company is concerned, it accepted the suggestions and ultimately all the Unions of workmen, excepting the "Burn "Sramik Union" agreed to withdraw the strike, and ultimately the lock-out was lifted on or about July 24, 1956. Meanwhile pursuant to the suggestions abovementioned, the company proceeded to prepare charge-sheets against such persons in respect of whom there were prima facie charges of violation of the Standing Orders and charge-sheets were prepared against the persons including the Respondents Nos. 2 to 12. The charges were more or less similar and consisted not only of participation in an illegal strike but also of serious overt acts like incitement spreading false rumour, etc. Some of the overt acts complained of, are extremely serious. Thereafter on diverse dates, separate and detailed enquiries were held into the charges against each of the said Respondents, in their presence upon evidence. The Labour Welfare Officer of the Company who was the enquiring officer in these cases, after carefully considering the proceedings made reports to the Management, holding that the charges had been proved against the said Respondents. In some cases a minor charge or two was held not to have been proved, but substantially all the charges, both of taking part in illegal strike, as well as in the overt acts accompanying the same were held to have been proved. The reports are annexed to the petition and careful reasons for coming to such a conclusion are contained therein. Thereupon, the Management of the company decided to dismiss each of the said Respondents. As I have stated above, conciliation efforts made by the Labour Department were partially fruitful, and the lock-out was lifted with effect from July 24, 1956. All the Unions, excepting 'Burn Sramik Union' joined work. A number of the workmen, however, belonging to the "Burn Sramik Union", not only continued the strike but began to incite others to continue the strike, and attempted forcibly to prevent the workmen desirous of resuming work, from doing so, by picketing, violence and intimidation of various kinds. In this respect, the company had prima facie evidence of such action on the part of the Respondents Nos. 13 to 17. The company accordingly issued charge-sheets to the said workmen. Charges preferred against the Respondents Nos. 13 to 15 consisted of certain actions prior to the lock-out and thereafter, whereas the charges against the Respondents Nos. 16 and 17 related exclusively to the period after the lock-out. In these cases also enquiries were held individually, and evidence was taken in the presence of the workmen concerned. After carefully considering the proceedings, the enquiring officer, who was the machine shop manager in this case, made a report that the said Respondents and each of them were guilty of the offences with which they were charged. Thereupon the Management of the company decided to dismiss the said Respondents and each of them.
(3.) At that time, references were pending between the company and its workmen before the 3rd Industrial Tribunal. Therefore, applications were made under Section 33 of the Act for permission to dismiss the Respondents Nos. 2 to 17. Before the applications could be heard, the said Tribunal made its award in respect of the main dispute, and due to lapse of the time the application under Section 33 were struck off. When these applications were struck off, certain other proceedings were pending before the 1st Industrial Tribunal. Consequently, applications were made before the said Tribunal under Section 33. Here again, the same procedure was repeated, and the applications were struck off. In the meanwhile, certain other disputes were referred for adjudication before the 5th Industrial Tribunal. In view of the amendments effected in the said Act by Act XXXVI of 1956, which came into force on March 10, 1957 it was no longer necessary for the company to obtain prior permission in writing of the Tribunal before dismissing the said Respondents, it being necessary only to obtain the approval of the Tribunal. Accordingly by letters dated October 25, 1957 the company dismissed the Respondents Nos. 2 to 17 and offered them a month's wage each, in accordance with the provisions of the said Act. Thereafter, the Petitioner made an application to the 5th Industrial Tribunal for approval of the dismissals. In exercise of powers conferred by the said Act, the 5th Industrial Tribunal transferred the proceedings to the Second Labour Court being the Respondent No. 1 in this application. The applications were numbered as 23/33/58 and 24/33/58. By consent of the parties the first Respondent consolidated the two application and heard them together. Evidence was taken. The Respondent No. 1 has made an order dated November 15, 1958, a copy whereof is annexed to the petition and is to be found at pages 382 to 404. This application has been made challenging the said order. Coming now to the order of the Respondent No. 1 it is found that the facts have been set out elaborately and the cases made by the respective parties have been clearly indicated. Speaking of the evidence adduced before the Labour Court the order states that the only witness produced by the workmen was evidently "set up" by the Union to show that nothing in the way of subversive activities were carried out after the lock-out was lifted, and the situation was quite peaceful, yet the company singled out these workmen to award punishment. Regarding the departmental enquiries the Court held as follows: The Company held regular enquiries. Departmental enquiries were held after the workers were fully charge-sheeted and they submitted their replies and the Company had stated that all possible opportunities were given to the workmen concerned in the departmental enquiry to defend themselves.;

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