Decided on December 06,1960

Punjab National Bank, Limited Appellant
WORKMEN Respondents

Cited Judgements :-



GAJENDRAGADKAR, J. - (1.)THIS appeal by special leave arises out of an industrial dispute between the appellant, the Punjab National Bank, Ltd., and the respondents, its workmen. On 17 June, 1958 the Central Government referred his dispute for adjudication to the Central Industrial Tribunal, Delhi, constituted under S.7A of the Industrial Disputes Act XIV of 1947; this reference was made under S. 10(1)(d) of the said Act. The question referred for adjudication is thus stated in the order of reference :
"Whether the Punjab National Bank, Ltd., Delhi, is justified in imposing a condition that the persons appointed as officers grade II either by direct recruitment or by promotion shall be governed by the rules of the bank as applicable to officers in respect of scales of pay and other conditions of service and not by those of the award of the All-India Industrial Tribunal (Bank Disputes), as modified by S. 3 of the Industrial Disputes (Banking Companies) Decision Act, 1955 (41 of 1955), and if not, to what relief are such persons entitled."

(2.)THE industrial tribunal heard both the parties, considered the evidence led by them in support of their respective contentions and has made an award in favour of the respondents. In dealing with the reference the tribunal framed two issues. The first issue was whether the appellant was justified in issuing circular No. 249 dated 18 April, 1957 (Ex. M. 4) and thereby imposing the conditions contained therein on its employees, and whether such a circular was opposed to law as contended by the respondents. The second issue was whether in view of the subsequent circular No. 336 (Ex M.1) issued by the appellant on 26 May, 1958 the respondents can have no grievance at all in the matter. Both these issues have been answered by the tribunal substantially in favour of the respondents. The tribunal has held that though the appellant may be at liberty to impose and conditions it liked on new entrants in its service, it could not impose any conditions in its pre-existing staff which were inconsistent with the Bank award which was then in operation; that is why the tribunal has set aside the promotions made by the appellant from the existing employees to grade II under the relevant circulars and directed the appellant to make promotions to the cadre of officer grade II from among its employees according to the procedure prescribed by the said Bank award. It is against this award that the appellant has come to this Court by special leave.The appellant which is an important banking company carries on its banking operations through its 350 odd branches situated all over the country. It employs more than 7, 000 workmen in its several offices. In the present appeal we are concerned with its supervisory staff whose strength approximately is 824. As we will presently point out, the present industrial dispute is the culmination of longstanding difference between the appellant and its supervisory staff, and the story of these difference goes back to the constitution of the Sen Tribunal appointed in June 1949. This tribunal was called upon to deal, inter alia, with the problem of the supervisory staff employed by Indian banks. After an exhaustive enquiry it made its award, but on an appeal to this Court the said award was set aside in 1951. Thereafter Act 11 of 1951 was passed as a temporary measures for freezing certain provisions of the said award in order to prevent the spread of the prevailing unrest amongst the bank employees in question. The said dispute was then referred by the Central Government to the Sastri Tribunal in January, 1952. This tribunal held an elaborate enquiry and made its award which was published on 20 April, 1953. Appeals were preferred by the banks and their employees against the said award before the Labour Appellate Tribunal, and on 28 April, 1954 the Appellate Tribunal substantially confirmed the recommendations and directions of the Sastri Tribunal with certain modifications. In these arbitration proceedings 121 banks were concerned; amongst them was the present appellant. After the decision of the Labour Appellate Tribunal was pronounced the Central Government made certain modifications in the said decision, and that led to the appointment of a Commission of Enquiry on the five points referred to it. On 25 July 1955 the Commission submitted its report, and in the terms of the said report the parliament passed Act 41 of 1955 which was in operation for five years thereafter. It is common ground that at the relevant time the decision of the Labour Appellate Tribunal as modified by the later Act governed the relations between the appellant and the respondents.According to the respondents the appellant consistently followed a policy of refusing to implement the said decision and with that object it began to issue circulars with a view to persuade the respondents to give up their claims under the said decision. The respondents, however, were determined to enforce their rights under the said decision, and that led to arbitration proceedings between the parties. The Central Government referred to Mr. Rameshwar Dayal for his adjudication a dispute relating to 17 supervisors, accountants and head cashiers named in the reference. The main point of controversy between the parties was whether the employees designated as aforesaid were workmen under the Act or not. Whereas the respondents thought they were workmen, the appellant denied it. On 4 April, 1957 the said tribunal decided this point in favour of the respondents, and it held that the appellant was not justified in reissuing a dispute in that behalf. It is in the background of this previous history of long-standing dispute that the subsequent events which led to the present reference have to be considered.
The Sastri award which dealt exhaustively with all the items of dispute between the parties made several recommendations, two of which may be specifically mentioned at this stage. In Para. 164 the award provided that in regard to categories of employees specified in the said paragraph it was necessary that special allowances should be paid. These categories were serially specified as categories 1 to 9 and in respect of each of them the special allowance fixed was prescribed by the award. It is well-known that the Sastri award had classified the banks into four classes, and the directions in regard to the payment of special allowance was made by reference to the areas where the said banks were operating. The class of employees designated as supervisors, superintendents, sub-accountants, departmental incharges, and employees in charge of treasury pay office constituted category 9, and a special allowance of Rs. 50 per month was payable by "A" class banks in regard to them.Paragraph 529 of the award dealt with the problem of promotions. The award stated that it was not possible to lay down any hard and fast rule in connexion with promotions. It rejected the suggestion of the employees' unions that they should be consulted in connexion with promotions, because it was satisfied that such suggestions were not supportable on principle. It was agreed that promotion could not be treated as a matter which could be made automatic and a great deal of discretion by its very nature must rest with the management in that connexion. Even so, in the said paragraph the award made certain general recommendations which may be borne in mind by the management in dealing with cases of promotion. The award also deal with the problem of dearness allowance in different places, readjustment of salaries, office hours, overtime wages, procedure to be followed in taking disciplinary action and transfers in several paragraphs. The respondents' case is that the provisions contained in these several paragraphs of the award which were confirmed by the appellate decision were binding between the parties at the relevant time and it was not open to the appellant to impose any new condition into the contract of service which was inconsistent with any of the provision of the said decision. That in substance is the basis of the grievance made by the respondents in the present proceedings.

(3.)LET us now briefly indicate the nature and effect of the circulars issued by the appellant seeking to introduce new conditions of service governing the employment of the respondents. The first circular in the series is circular No. 201 issued on 8 August, 1956 (Ex. W. 5.) By this circular the appellant framed certain rules for promotion of clerks to the cadre of supervisors. It appears that the rules framed by the appellant in that behalf were not exhaustive, and so the said rules were revised and new elaborate provisions were made for promoting clerks to the cadre of supervisors. These rules prescribe the allotment of marks under different clauses and are intended to held the management in assessing the quality of the work done by the employee with a view to decide whether he should be promoted to the cadre of supervisor or not. This circular does not appear to be inconsistent with any provision of the award or decision, and no serious exception can be taken on it.The followed circular No. 249 (Ex. M. 4) dated 18 April 1957. By this circular the appellant announced that its board of directors has sanctioned the creation of two grades for the officer staff, officer grade II, with its pay scale beginning with Rs. 175 in the grade Rs. 175-15-325-E.B.-20-425 and officer grade I beginning with Rs. 225 in the grade Rs. 225-20-425-E.B.-25-550. The circular then proceeded to add that all existing confirmed supervisors shall be placed in grade II and all confirmed officers of the rank of accountants and assistant managers in grade I. According to the circular, salaries of persons who were drawing less than the starting salary of the new grade should be raised to the minimum of the new grade from 1 April, 1957 when the said grade had come into existence. The circular further promised that adjustment allowance then being drawn by the officer shall be wiped off to the extent of increase in his employments on account of the revision of grades. It appears that the tribunal was inclined to hold that this provision about adjustment allowance contravened the award, but it has been fairly conceded before us that the said view is erroneous; so that by itself this circular also cannot be said to contravene the award or the decision.

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