1. These five are all cases under the Workmen's Breach of Contract Act, XIII of 1859, disposed of by the same Magistrate, and they contain so many points in common that one judgment will suffice to dispose of them all. Act XIII of 1859 provides for certain method of dealing with an artificer, a workman, or a labourer who has received an advance of money on account of any work which he shall have contracted to perform. It is quite plain that the powers conferred on Magistrates, and the advantages given to employers by this Act can, unless great care is exercised, be used to interfere with the free competition of labour to secure adequate wages.
2. It is very necessary, therefore, in all cases under this Act that the circumstances, which are supposed to bring them within the terms of the Act, should be carefully ascertained. The first thing to be ascertained is whether the artificer, workman or labourer entered into a valid contract and, if so, has wilfully and without lawful or reasonable excuse neglected or refused to perform work according to the terms of his contract.
3. Now, in order that this may be ascertained, it is quite clear that the terms and circumstances of the contract must be accurately ascertained. In not a single one of these five cases is it possible, on the record, as it stands, to ascertain what are the precise terms of the contract.
4. Broadly speaking, in each case, the workman contracts that he will work as a weaver for a certain time and produce a certain number of woven clothes. In some cases the period of service fixed by the contracts extend over so many as eight or six years for the paltry sum of Rs. 99 or so given by the employer as advance. The consideration in those cases is so grossly inadequate as to suggest that the so-called advance was merely a device for bringing the contract within the Act. In some other cases, in addition to the so-called advance, the contract provides for payment of wages according to custom, and this consideration takes it out of the operation of the Act which the preamble shows is intended to apply only to cases of advance. In other cases the advance is in reality a debt. In no case is it definitely provided what wages the employee is to receive: in what form and at what times he is to receive them or how the advance is to be repaid. These matters are not cleared up by the evidence. Nor is it clearly ascertained in any case in what circumstances the weaver refused to go on working. We, therefore, set aside the order of the Magistrate in each case, on the ground that the evidence on the record does not justify it. That is sufficient to dispose of these cases.