(1.) The petitioner, Assam Oil Company Limited, Digboi, is a company incorporated and registered in the United Kingdom and has its registered office in England. The Company carried on business at different places including Digboi in Assam. It is engaged in the business of exacavation or sinking of oil wells, winning or extraction of crude oil and refining of petroleum and petroleum products. For the purpose of carrying on the aforesaid business, the company has under its employment a large number of workmen of various categories.
(2.) The petitioner's case is that it had been paying bonus to its employees in the past either under terms of mutual settlement or under awards of Tribunals made from time to time.
The quantum of bonus at the rate of three months' basic wages for the years 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966 and 1967 was covered by a long term settlement reached between the parties on 10th April, 1965, with a provision that payment of bonus for years 1966 and 1967 shall be subject to review in the light of the recommendations of the Bonus Commission if and when legislated upon and subject to the conditions stipulated in the said long term settlement. In the meantime, the payment of Bonus Act. 1965 (hereinafter called 'the Act') was passed by Parliament and after having received the President's assent it came into force on 25th September, 1965. The Act had the effect in respect of the accounting year 1964 and in respect of every subsequent year. It superseded all agreements and settlements inconsistent with the provisions of the Act.
Its employees (hereinafter designated as 'workmen') are represented by the Assam Petroleum Mazdoor Union, Digboi (respondent No. 2) and the Assam Oil Company Labour Union, Digboi (respondent No. 3). Thee parties ratified the terms of the long-term settlement signed on 10th April, 1965, aforesaid, by entering into a fresh agreement on 6th March, 1967, in accordance with the provisions of Section 34 (3) of the Act, adopting a formula different from that under the Act.
The quantum of bonus for 1968 was determined and paid at the rate of three months' basic wages on the basis of a memorandum of settlement reached on 25th April, 1969 in accordance with the provisions of Section 34 (3) of the Act by adopting a formula different from that under the Act. On 26th December, 1969 an omnibus settlement on pay scales and other issues was reached whereby the Company made substantial upward revision of the workmen's basic wages, dearness allowance, gratuity/retirement benefits and overtime rates. By the said memorandum the parties agreed in specific terms that the payment of bonus in future shall be calculated and paid in accordance with the provisions of the Act. The said settlement has been fully implemented effective from 1st December, 1969.
Regarding the payment of bonus in respect of the accounting year 1969 a dispute arose 'between the parties over the quantum of bonus to be calculated and paid to the workmen. The workmen initially demanded five months' basic wages as bonus which they subsequently reduced to three months' 'basic wages, calculated on 1969 December pay scales, and alternatively claimed 20 per cent, of earned wages ,as 'bonus which they subsequently reduced to 18 per cent, of wages earned during the said accounting year, in terms of provisions of the Act. Subsequently the workmen again enhanced their claim to bonus to 20 per cent, of annual wages or three months' ''basic pay calculated on a rate of pay as at 31st December. 1969, plus 4% of annual wages. The Company on the other hand maintained that bonus should be calculated and paid to workmen in accordance with the provisions of the Act, which is binding on the parties, particularly in view of the specific clause on Bonus in the settlement between the parties dated 26th December, 1969 stipulating that the payment of bonus in future shall be calculated and paid in accordance with the provisions of the Act. The company maintained that for the year 1969 duly audited accounts and the trading results for the year did not, on application of the formula laid down in the Act, warrant any payment of bonus in excess of the minimum stipulated under the Act.
The parties having failed to arrive at a mutually acceptable solution regarding the quantum of bonus to be paid in respect of the accounting year 1969, after a series of discussions at the instance of the Assistant Labour Commissioner (Central) and Labour Enforcement Officer (Central), Ditorugarh, a conciliation settlement was ultimately reached on 30th September, 1970, 'between the Company on the one hand and the workmen represented by respondents Nos. 2 and 3 on the other. It was stipulated in the agreement that the parties would jointly apply to the appropriate Government for referring the dispute for adjudication by an Industrial Tribunal under Section 10 (2) of the Industrial Disputes Act on the specific matter in dispute, namely, "To what quantum of bonus for the accounting year 1969, the workmen of Assam Oil Co. Ltd. are entitled to under the Payment of Bonus Act, 1965". Accordingly a joint application signed by the parties on the same date was forwarded to the Central Government in a prescribed form seeking adjudication on the abovementioned specific matter in dispute.
(3.) Pending the adjudication and subject to the award that might result from the joint application dated 30th September, 1970, filed before the Central Government for appointment of a Tribunal to adjudicate on the quantum of 'bonus in respect of the accounting year 1969, the parties reached a further conciliation settlement on 8th October, 1970, for an ad interim payment against the bonus for 1969 to the workers according to the schedule annexed to the memorandum of settlement (Annexure B). Accordingly the Government of India, Ministry of Labour and Rehabilitation, Department of Labour and Employment, referred the aforesaid dispute to the Central Government Industrial Tribunal of Assam, at Dibrugarh, under Section 10 (2) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, for adjudication. The issue referred for adjudication to the Tribunal was in the following terms as already agreed to by the parties :
"To what quantum of Bonus for the accounting year 1969, the workmen of Assam Oil Company Limited are entitled to under the Payment of Bonus Act, 1965 -;