D.N. Sinha, J. -
(1.) In these two applications, which have been heard together, the petitioners are, or represent, certain tea estates in West Bengal, which employ various classes of employees working in their respective tea plantations. The question that arises here is a question under the Minimum Wages Act, 1948 (Act XI of 1948), the object of which is to provide for fixing minimum rates of wages in certain employments. Under Section 3 of the said Act, the appropriate Government may, in the manner provided therein, fix the minimum rates of wages payable to employees employed in employments specified in the schedule to the Act. This schedule is from time to time altered. The Government can, by notification, fix the minimum rates of wages payable to such employees and may, from time to time, review the Minimum Rates of Wages so fixed, at intervals not exceeding five years. Section 3 (3) (a) of the said Act is important and is set out below-
"(3) In fixing or revising minimum rates of wages under this section.-- (a) different minimum rates of wages may be fixed for -- (i) different scheduled employments; (ii) different classes of work in the same scheduled employment; (iii) adults, adolescents, children and apprentices; (iv) different localities;"
(2.) By a notification dated September 5, 1951, the Government of West Bengal, acting, under the provisions of the said Act, fixed the minimum rates of wages payable to the employees employed in tea plantations in which the petitioners in these two applications are interested. By subsequent notifications dated March 1952, February 1953, April 1954 and May 1954, the minimum rates of wages so fixed were revised from time to time under Section 3 (1) (b) of the said Act. In 1955, by an agreement between the employers and the workers of the tea plantations, the employers agreed to pay to the workers, wages in excess of these notified by Government as minimum wages. This agreement was subsisting in August 1959. By a notification dated August 20, 1959, published in the Calcutta Gazette (Extraordinary) dated August 24, 1959, the State of West Bengal purported to revise the minimum rates of wages once more. A copy of the said notification is Ext. A to the petition. It is not necessary for the purposes of these applications to refer to other parts of the said notification. The only relevant Clauses are (2) and (3) which run as follows:-
"(2) The existing basic monthly wages of the subordinate staff shall be increased by a minimum of Rs. 3.75 nP.
(3.) The minimum increase in existing monthly wages of the clerical employees shall be Rs. 6/- split up as shown below:- Basic wages ... Rs. 4.00 nP. Dearness allowance ... Rs. 2.00 nP." 3. It is these two items in the notification, which are challenged. There was another notification dated August 31, 1959, in which certain mistakes were rectified but we are not really concerned with that. With regard to these two clauses, several objections have been raised. The first objection which is formulated by Mr. Gupta is that in these two clauses the minimum rates of wages have not been laid down at all, but what has been done is to fix the wages which the employer should pay to the employee. He argues that this is not the object of the Act at all. He points out that the minimum rate of wages fixed by the Act, is not the rate at which the employer is bound to pay his workers. It is a rate, below which he may not pay. He may, however, pay any wage he likes which is in excess thereof. It does seem that the wording of Clauses (2) and (3) is singularly inappropriate to the fixation of rates of minimum wages and, on the face of it, it seems to be a fixation of what wages an employer should pay to his employee. Secondly, Mr. Gupta argues that under the Act, the Government has nothing to do with the rates of wages which an employer may be paying to the employee, by agreement of parties. All that the Government can do is to fix a rate of minimum wage, and after a specified interval alter the rate so fixed. He argues that the words "existing wages" Can only refer to the last minimum wage that had been fixed. On this point, however, there is considerable doubt. The object of fixing the minimum wage and to revise the same, is undoubtedly the fixation of a quantum, which is fixed after taking into consideration all kinds of factors. But in fixing the minimum wage, I do not see why Government cannot refer to the existing wage, even if it is based upon an agreement between the par ties. It might be said that the revision is not really of the rates fixed by agreement, but is a mode of quantifying the rate of minimum wage, which Government is entitled to fix. So far as these two points are concerned, a charitable view as regards interpretation could be taken, and if these were the only objections raised, the action of Government could be sustained,;