1. The petitioners are employed as weavers in the silk mills of the second respondents. According to them each of them was employed on a monthly wage of Rs. 165, per month; but this is not admitted by the second respondents hereinafter referred to as the respondents. The respondents' case is that in November 1958 an agreement was arrived at with all the weavers as well as the assistant secretary of their union, according to which the weavers were to be paid on a piece-rate basis at the rate of 19 pies per yard. In May 1959, five weavers including the three petitioners, made applications to the Payment of Wages Authority in which they contended that the respondents had unlawfully deducted Rs. 125 from their wages during the period 1 December, 1958 to 30 April, 1959. They contended that during this period, each of them should have been paid at the rate of Rs. 165 per month. It was urged before the Payment of Wages authority on behalf of the respondents that, as there were two rival contracts before it, the authority had no jurisdiction to decide the application made to it. On the other hand, it was contended on behalf of the workmen that the authority could, and should decided whether the second contract alleged by the respondents really existed. They disputed the factum of the second contract. This argument was not accepted by the authority. In its view, a finding with regard to this existence of the second contract would amount to holding that it was binding on the workmen. The authority then held that it had no jurisdiction to decide the applications. The applications were, therefore, dismissed. Three of the workmen have challenged this decision in this application.
2. Mr. Shanghvi, who appears on behalf of the petitioners, has conceded that according to the proviso decisions of this Court, if two different contracts are relied upon by the employer and his employees, the Payment of Wages Authority would have no jurisdiction to decide which one of them was valid and binding upon the parties.
3. He has, however, urged that the authority is competent to go into the question and determine whether the two different contracts really existed, though it cannot decide which one of them was valid. He has strongly contended that, in any other view, the authority's jurisdiction would be ousted as soon as an employer puts forward a false defence that the contract under which the workmen were employed was different from that alleged by them. He has, therefore, urged that before holding that it has no jurisdiction in the matter, the authority must first decide whether the two alleged rival contracts really existed. There is considerable force in these arguments. We are, however, bound by the decision of the Court in Anthony Sebastin Almeda v. R. M. Taylor : (1957)ILLJ452Bom which was approved by a Full Bench of this Court in Viswanath Tukaram v. General Manager, Central Railway : (1957)IILLJ250Bom . In that case, the wages of the workers with effect from 1 January, 1947 were fixed at Rs. 75 plus Rs. 25 as personal pay. From 1 August, 1947 their wages were reduced to Rs. 80 out of which Rs. 5 were given to them as personal pay. It was contended on behalf of the workers that their wages had been unlawfully reduced from Rs. 100 to Rs. 80. On behalf of the employer, it was urged that as the workmen and the employer had relied on different contracts, the authority had no jurisdiction to decide which of the two contracts held the filed. This argument was accepted and at : (1957)ILLJ452Bom , it was observed :
'. . . But when the employer and employee come before him (the Payment of Wages Authority) and rely on different contracts, it is not within his jurisdiction to decide which of the two contracts holds the filed, which of them is subsisting and under which of them the employer is liable to pay wages. It is only when there is no dispute as to the contract that subsists and regulates the rights and liabilities of the parties that the jurisdiction of the authority arises to determine the quantum of wages . . .'
Later on at p. 454, it was observed :-
'. . . When the rival contracts are in the field and the question is under which contracts the liability of the employer arises, in our opinion, the legislature has not conferred the jurisdiction upon the authority to decide that question.
It should also be borne in mind that in this case the employee challenges that factum of the subsequent contract. He also challenges the validity of that contract, assuming that that contract was arrived at. Therefore, the authority has been called upon to decide not only the factum of the subsequent contract but its validity. These are question which, according to us, do not fall within the ambit of the jurisdiction of the authority.'
According to this decision, therefore, the Payment of Wages Authority is not competent to decide even the question relating to the factum or the existence of the alleged different contracts. The position, of course, may be different, if the contention with regard to the second contract is taken up mala fide. If, for instance, the authority is prima facie satisfied that the contention in regard to there being a different contract is taken by the employer only in order to oust its jurisdiction, the authority may be competent to go into the question whether the defence taken up was genuine.
4. In the present case the contract which, according to the employers, now regulates the relationship of the parties, is different from that alleged by the workmen in their applications to the Payment of Wages Authority. The parties are, therefore, relying on two different contracts. It cannot also be said that this defence of a different contract has been taken by the respondents mala fide. They have produced a copy of the notice which, according to them, they had put up on the notice board on 29 November, 1958. As, therefore, two different contracts are being relied upon, the authority is not competent to decide which one of them is valid and binding upon the parties. The Payment of Wages Authority was, therefore, right in dismissing the applications made to it by the petitioners. Rule discharged. No order as to costs.