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Workmen of AppIn Tea Estate Vs. Industrial Tribunal and ors. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
Subject;Labour and Industrial
CourtGuwahati High Court
Decided On
Judge
AppellantWorkmen of AppIn Tea Estate
Respondentindustrial Tribunal and ors.
Excerpt:
.....appin tea estate has clearly accepted the liability for the payment of the bonus and even if the delhi agreement la not binding on her, the letter of 11 may 1956 accepts the liability to pay bonus as agreed to under the delhi agreement. .collective bargaining for securing improvement on matters like these, viz, basic pay, dearness allowance, bonus, provident fund and gratuity, leave and holidays, is the primary object of a trade union and when demands like these are put forward and thereafter a strike is resorted to in an attempt to induce the company to agree to the demands or at) least to open negotiations, the strike must, prima facie, be considered justified. .every strike is not illegal and the workers enjoy the fundamental right to resort to strike whenever they are so pleased in..........of appin tea estate's refusal to pay to their workmen prosperity bonus for 1953-54 as per delhi agreement and also fagua and puja bonus for 1959 is justified?(b) if not, how and when bonuses should be paid ?2. (a) whether the clalm of workmen of the aforesaid management for compensation tor failure of the management to supply food grains to them during 1959 at rs. 20 par mi and as par government notification no. glb. 129/55/40, dated 31 may 1955, is justified ?(b) if so, what amount of compensation are the workmen entitled ?the presiding officer of the industrial tribunal gave its award dated 26 november 1963, which was published in the assam gazette on 11 december 1983. the tribunal held on issue (1)(a) that the tea estate being no party to the delhi agreement, the agreement as.....
Judgment:

G. Mehrotra, C.J.

1. By a notification dated 8 October 1960. the State of Assam referred the folio wing two questions for adjudication to the presiding officer, industrial tribunal, Assam, under Section 10(1)(d) of the Industrial Disputes Act:

1. (a) Whether the management of Appin Tea Estate's refusal to pay to their workmen prosperity bonus for 1953-54 as per Delhi agreement and also Fagua and Puja bonus for 1959 is Justified?

(b) If not, how and when bonuses should be paid ?

2. (a) Whether the clalm of workmen of the aforesaid management for compensation tor failure of the management to supply food grains to them during 1959 at Rs. 20 par mi and as par Government Notification No. GLB. 129/55/40, dated 31 May 1955, is justified ?

(b) If so, what amount of compensation are the workmen entitled ?

The presiding officer of the industrial tribunal gave its award dated 26 November 1963, which was published In the Assam Gazette on 11 December 1983. The tribunal held on issue (1)(a) that the tea estate being no party to the Delhi agreement, the agreement as such is not binding on the proprietrix of that estate acid further that the acceptance of the Delhi agreement by the proprietrix (vide her letter marked Ex, W. 6), was only to avoid the atrlke and thus was not legally enforce able. Regarding the other part of this Issue dealing with Puja bonus and Fagua bonus, tha finding of the tribunal Is that the workmen have failed to establish that they have been receiving any Puja bonus and Fagua bonus and no such custom has been established. 'Jaua, the demand for such a bonus was not Justified. The award In respect of Issue (2)(a) is that the workmen's claim for compensation for failure of the management to supply foodgrains to them in 1959, at the rate of Rs. 20 per maund was not justified. The workmen of the tea estate have come up to this Court under Article 223 of the Constitution and have challenged the validity of the award given by the presiding officer of the industrial tribunal.

2. The first point urged is that the Delhi agreement was binding on the management of the tea estate concerned and, In the alternative, it is contended that the tribunal has committed a manifest error of law In holding that the acceptance by the proprietrix was illegal as it was made under the threat of the strike. The other findings of the tribunal are also assailed.

3. The question whether there was any custom under which the workmen are entitled to Puja and Fagua bonuses is a pure question of fact and this Court, In exercise of its powers under Article 226 of the Constitution, will not Interfere with tha award of the tribunal based on evidence on the ground that the finding Is not based on sufficient evidence. In our opinion no minifestt error of law has been oommlttad by tha presiding officer of the tribunal in hold lag that the workmen have failed to establish that they have been receiving Fagua and Puja bonuses under any custom.

4. Regarding issue (2), the contention of Sri Lahiri for the petitioners is that the tribunal waa not right in holding that there was no obligation to supply rice at concasslonal rate as the workers had been givan somo land for growing their own paddy and further that there was no obligation on the part of the management to supply rice at a concessional rata to the workmen as they never demanded any rule.

5. The question which has been referred to the industrial tribunal la whether the workmen's claim for compensation for failure of the management to supply foodgrains to them under the notification of the Government dated 31 May 1955, was Justified or not. The reference relates expressly to the Government notification dated 31 May 1955. The notification of 31 May 1955, in so far as it relates to supply of rice at concessional rate, does not apply to Cachar gardens. It is not disputed that the garden in question is situate in the district of Cachar. Thus, it is admitted that the notification of 31 May 1955, is not applicable to this garden. In this view of the matter, no question of the failure of the management to supply rule at a concessional rate would arise and there could be no dispute with regard to the non-observance of the notification of 31 May 1955, by the management of the said garden.

6. Sri Lahiri, who appears for the workmen, has contended that, in that event, the finding of the industrial tribunal that, as the workmen were given land for growing paddy, they were not entitled to claim any rule at concessional rate, cannot be held to be binding on the parties. Obviously, if this notification of 31 May 1955, does not apply to Caohar, the question of any liability of the management to supply rice at a concessional rate would not arise at all. No Question of the interpretation of the said notification would be relevont and any finding: of the tribunal cannot constitute res judicata in any subsequent proceeding.

7. In the alternative, Sri Lahiri has contended that although the reference in express terms referred to the notification of 1955, but the tribunal has also interpreted the subsequent notification of 20 August 1966, and the parties accepted that the tribunal was competent to Interpret the notification of August 1956. From a perusal of the award it will be clear that the parties accepted the notification of August 1956, to the extent that by that notification the provisions of the earlier notification of 31 May 1955, were extenred to Cachar gardens and as the notification of 31 May 1955, did not make it obligatory on the management to supply rule at a concessional rate irrespective of the fact whether any such demand was made or not, it cannot be said that the claim for compensation was justified without establishing that any demand was made for the supply of rice at a concessional rate. Independently the notification of 1956 could not be considered by the tribunal. The notification only enjoins upon the management to supply rice at a concessional rate. If the workers do not demand rice, the question of supplying them rice at a concessional rata would not arise. In any view of the matter than there is no error of law committed by the tribunal in regard to issue (2).

8. The main point, however, urged by the petitioner is that the Delhi agreement for payment of bonus is binding on the management. The Delhi agreement was entered into between the Indian Tea Association and the union of the worker. The Appin Tea Estate is not a member of the Indian Tea Association and thus the Appin Tea Estate was no party to the Delhi agreement. The said agreement cannot be binding on the proprletrix of the Appiu Tea Estate as a party to the agreement. The workman, however, have set up a letter of the proprletrix dated 11 May 1956, sent to tha general secretary, Cachar Cha Sramik Union, Silchar, under which siie has accepted the liability for the payment of the bonus under the Delhi agreement. It is urged that this letter constitutes a contract between the workers of the tea estate and tha proprletrix. The Dalhl agreement was enterel into in March 1956. After the agreement the workers wrote a letter to the proprletrix in April 1956, asking the management to accept the pirma of tha Ddlhi agreement and to inform them about their reaction. No action was taken by the management as that latter. The correspondence wenoa and in April 1956, the management of the tea estate asked for a copy of the agreement which was supplied to the management. On 17 April 1956, again the workmen reminded the management of their earlier demand. On 11 May 1956, a letter was seat by the proprletrix which is as follows:

With reference to your letter No. OS/ 976-85, dated 25 April 1956, I beg to inform you that I have accepted the liability for the above. But, due to unavoidable reason, I am unable to calculate the amount which will be due to the labourers up till now.

So will you please give me some time I am giving you assurance that I will pay the amount which will be due to them within a short period, and oblige thereby.

By this letter, the proprietrix of the Appin Tea Estate has clearly accepted the liability for the payment of the bonus and even if the Delhi agreement la not binding on her, the letter of 11 May 1956 accepts the liability to pay bonus as agreed to under the Delhi agreement. The tribunal has also held that the letter constitutes an acceptance of the terms of the Del agreement. But It has held that as this letter was written under threat of a strike it is not binding and not enforceable against the proprietrix. In our opinion, the tribunal is not right in holding that because the acceptance was under the threat of a strike, it was not enforceable. As soon as the Delhi agreement was entered into, the union asked the propriefcrix to accept the terms of the agreement. After long correspondence, the proprietrix by the letter accepted the terms of the Delhi agreement unconditionally. Merely because the demand was backed by the threat of a strike it cannot be said that the acceptance was unenforceable. In the Industrial Disputes Act, the whole doctrine of collective bargaining has been recognized and the demand of workmen can be backed by threat of a strike. But every strike is not illegal and thus it cannot be said that the acceptance by the proprietrix was not enforceable, simply because the workman had threatened to resort to strike in case the demand is not accepted.

9. The following observation in the case of Swadeshi Industries, Ltd. v. their workmen 1960—11 L.L.J. 78 at 81, may be quoted;..Collective bargaining for securing improvement on matters like these, viz, basic pay, dearness allowance, bonus, provident fund and gratuity, leave and holidays, is the primary object of a trade union and when demands like these are put forward and thereafter a strike is resorted to In an attempt to Induce the company to agree to the demands or at) least to open negotiations, the strike must, prima facie, be considered justified....

10. In the case of State of Bihar v. Deodar Jha : AIR1958Pat51 , it was observed as follows:. Every strike is not illegal and the workers enjoy the fundamental right to resort to strike whenever they are so pleased in order to express their grievances or to make certain demands. This fundamental right cannot, in any way, be limited by standing orders. Strikes are Illegal under the Indian law only when penalties have been imposed for them for contravention of the provisions of Sections 22, 23 and 24 of the Act.

In our opinion, every strike cannot be said to be Illegal and if a strike itself is not Illegal, It la difficult to understand how the demand backed by the threat of a strike can be said to be regarded as coercion so as to vitiate the contract.

11. Section 14 of the Contract Act states that consent is Bald to be free when it la not caused by coercion, as down land in Section 15, Under Section 15, it is a bateil that 'cosrolon' is the committing, or threatening to commit, any act forbidden by the ladiaa Penal Coilo, or the unlawful detaining, or threatening to detain, any property, to ths prejudice of any person whatever, with the intention of causing any person to eater into an agreement. The threat of strike Is neither a threat to commit any offence under the Indian Penal Code, nor la it unlawful detaining or threatening to detain, any property. Thus, It does not can under the definition of 'coercion.' There is no question of undue influence either, because In Section 16 it has been stated that a contract la paid to be Induced by ' undue Influenca' wher-3 the relations subsisting between the parties are such that one of the parties is in a position to dominate the will of the other and just a that position to obtain an unfair advantage over the other. It cannot be said that the workmen were in a position to dominate the will of the management.

12. Reliance is placed by Sri Choudhuri for the opposite parties on the case of Muthiah Chetti v. Karuppan Chettiar [A.I.R. 1927 Mad. 852]. This case, in our opialon, has no application to the facts of the present case. There, an agent, under a threat of detaining the account books of the principal, got his release from him and it was held that such a release was not binding as it was obtained under coercion. That was a clear case where the property was threatened to be detained by the agent and the case was covered by the definition of ' coercion ' under Section 15 of the Contract Act,

13. It was also urged by Sri Choudhuri that whether a particular contract was obtained under confirm is a question of fact, and any finding by the tribunal cannot be interfered with by this Court under Article 226 of the Constitution. The tribunal has held that the threat of strike invalidates the contract. Whether the threat of strike constitutes In the eye of law edison or not so as to Invalidate the contract is a pure question of law and the tribunal has committed a manifest error in that regard. This Court can issue a writ of certiorari, quashing the award on the ground. In the result, therefore, we allow this petition and quash the award In so far as it has held that the management was justified in refusing to pay to the workmen bonus as per Delhi agreement. In other respects, the findings of the tribunal are upheld.

14. Sri Choudhuri further argued that as the agreement la contrary to bonus formula set out by the Full Bench decision, the agreement is not enforceable. The question as to what bonus the workmen will be entitled to and in what circumstances they will be entitled to the bonus in accordance with the provisions of the Full Bench formula is a matter which will be examined by the tribunal when dealing with issue (1)(b).

15. The case IB sent back to the tribunal for disposal of issue (1)(b) which arises in view of our decision that the management was not justified in refusing to pay bonus in accordance with the terms of the Delhi agreement. There will be no order at to costs of this petition.


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