(1.)These are two appeals involving a common question of law, viz. , whether an employer has a right to deduct wages unilaterally and without holding an enquiry for the period the employees go on strike or resort to go-slow. In C. A. No. 2581 of 1986 we are concerned with the case of a strike while in the other appeal, it is a case of a go-slow. By their very nature, the facts in the two appeals differ, though the principles of law involved and many of the authorities to be considered in both cases may be the same. For the sake of convenience, however, we propose to deal with each case separately to the extent of the distinction.
Civil No. 2581 of 1986
(2.)The appellant in this case is a nationalised bank, and respondents 1 and 2 are its employees whereas respondents 3 and 4 are the Unions representing the employees of the Bank. It appears that some demands for wage revision made by the employees of all the banks were pending at the relevant time, and in support of the said demands the All India Bank Employees Association had given a call for a countrywide strike. The appellant-Bank issued a circular on 23/09/1977 to all its managers and agents to deduct wages of the employees who would participate in the strike for the days they go on strike. Respondents 3 and 4, i. e. the employees Unions gave a call for a four-hours strike on 29/12/1977. Hence, the Bank on 27/12/1977 issued an Administrative Circular warning the employees that they would be committing a breach of their contract of service if they participated in the strike and that they would not be entitled to draw the salary for the full day if they did so, and consequently, they need not report for work for the rest of the working hours on that day. Notwithstanding it, the employees went on a four-hours strike from the beginning of the working hours on 29/12/1977. There is no dispute that the banking hours for the public covered the said four hours. The employees, however, resumed work on that day after the strike hours, and the Bank did not prevent them from doing so. On 16/01/1978, the Bank issued a circular directing its managers and agents to deduct the full days salary of those of the employees who had participated in the strike. The respondents filed a writ petition in the High court for quashing the circular. The petition was allowed. The Bank preferred a Letters Patent Appeal in the High court which also came to be dismissed. Hence, the present appeal.
(3.)The High court has taken the view, firstly, that neither regulations nor awards nor settlements empowered the Bank to make the deductions, and secondly, in justice, equity and good conscience the Bank could not by the dictate of the impugned circular attempt to stifle the legitimate weapon given by the law to the workers to ventilate their grievances by resorting to strike. The High court further took the view that since strikes and demonstrations were not banned in the country and despite the inconvenience that they may cause, they were recognised as a legitimate form of protest for the workers, the circular acted as a deterrent to the employees from resorting to a legally recognised mode of protest. According to the High court, the circular even acted as an expedient to stifle the legitimate mode of protest allowed and recognised by law. The deduction of the wages for the day according to the court amounted to unilaterally changing the service conditions depriving the workers of their fixed monthly wages under the contract of service. The court also reasoned that under the conditions of service, wages were paid not from day to day or hour to hour but as a fixed sum on a monthlybasis. The contract between the Bank and the workers being not a divisible one, in the absence of a specific term in the regulations, awards and settlements, the Bank could not unilaterally reduce the monthly wage and thus give the employees lesser monthly wages than the one contracted. The non-observance by the employees of the terms of the contract may give the employer a cause of action and a right to take appropriate remedy for the breach, but the employer was not entitled to deduct any part of the wages either on a pro rata basis or otherwise. The High court further opined that the Bank was not without a remedy and the employees cannot hold the Bank to ransom. The Bank could get the four-hours strike declared illegal by recourse to the machinery provided by law or put the erring workers under suspension for minor misconduct under Regulation 19.7, hold an enquiry and if found guilty, impose punishment of warning, censure, adverse remarks or stoppage of increment for not more than six months as prescribed by Regulation 19.8. The High court also rejected the contention of the Bank that the Bank was entitled to make deductions under S. 7 (2 of the Payment of Wages Act, 1936 by holding that the provision enabled the employer to deduct wages only if the Bank had power under the contract of employment.