1. The petitioner is a worker employed by Messrs. Richardson & Cruddas, Ltd., who are hereinafter referred to as the employers. The petitioner applied before the authority under the Payment of Wages Act for Bombay area, praying for an order for payment of delayed wages and for compensation alleging that for the wage period 25 June, 1956 and 15 August, 1956, wages due to him had not been paid by the employers. The petitioner submitted that although he was ready and willing to work from 25 June, 1956 to 14 August, 1956 he had been prevented by the employers and was lockedout on the plea that he had gone an illegal strike; that the lockout was unjust, improper and illegal, being declared during the pendency of proceeding before the industrial tribunal in Reference No. 127 of 1954, in which the petitioner was concerned, and that even after the declaration of the said lockout, the petitioner through his trade union, informed the employers that he and other workers were ready and willing to work and called upon the employers to lift the lockout, but the employers ignored the same and refused to lift the lock-out, and accordingly the continuation of the lockout was 'manifestly illegal' and in contravention of the provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. The petitioner, therefore, claimed that he was prevented from working by the employers and the latter were liable to pay wages due to him for the entire period of the lockout, or in any case, for the period subsequent to the representation made by the trade union for the said lockout. This application was resisted by the employers. They contended inter alia that the payment of wages authority had no jurisdiction to make a direction in the matter as the question of payment of wages depended on whether the strike or the lock-out was illegal and that question could not be decided by the authority, the question being one relating to or arising out of an industrial dispute within the meaning of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. On the merits also the employers resisted the claim made by the petitioner.
2. The authority under the Payment of Wages Act tried the question of jurisdiction which was raised by the employer as a preliminary issue. The authority observed that the principal question in the application before him was not about the 'wages' of the petitioner, but was about the legality or the illegality of the strike and the lockout, and the petitioner 'wanted to succeed on the finding that the lockout was illegal, ' and as the question was about the legality of the strike and the consequent lockout the authority had no jurisdiction to hear and decide the petition. Against the order passed by the payment of wages authority, this application under Art. 226 and 227 of the Constitution has been filed.
3. We are, in this case, not concerned whether on the merits the petitioner is entitled to the wages claimed by him. The only question which falls to be determined is one of jurisdiction and of the authority to entertain the application of the petitioner. Under the Payment of Wages Act, by Sub-section (4) of S. 1, it is provided that it applies in the first instance to payment of wages to persons employed in any factory and to persons employed (otherwise than in a factory) upon any railway by a railway administration, or, either directly or through a sub-contractor by a person fulfilling a contract with a railway administration. By S. 15, the Provincial Government is invested with the power to constitute a payment of wages authority to hear and decide for any specified area all claims arising out of deductions from the wages, or delay in payment of the wages of persons employed or paid in that area. The decision of the authority is made appeallable by S. 17. By S. 18 it is provided that every authority appointed under Sub-section (1) of S. 15 shall have all the powers of a civil court under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, for the purpose of taking evidence and of enforcing the attendance of witnesses and compelling the production of documents, and every such authority shall be deemed to be a civil court for all the purposes of S. 195 and of Chap. XXXV of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898. Section 19 provides for the enforcement of the orders passed by the authority and S. 22 prohibits a civil court from entertaining any suit for the recovery of wages or of any deduction from wages so far as the claim forms the subject of an an application under S. 15 which has been presented by the plaintiff and which is pending before the authority appointed under that section or of an appeal under S. 17; or which has formed the subject of direction under S. 15 in favour of the plaintiff; or which has been adjudged, in any proceeding under S. 15, not to be owed to the plaintiff; or could have been recovered by an application under S. 15. By these provisions, exclusive jurisdiction is conferred upon the payment of wages authority, in matters specified in S. 22. But the authority is a tribunal with limited jurisdiction. These limitations placed upon the jurisdiction of the authority are of a four-fold character, relating -
(i) to the class of persons entitled to make a claim, that is, as prescribed by Sub-secs. (4) and (5) to S. 1;
(ii) to the limits of pecuniary jurisdiction prescribed by S. 1(6);
(iii) to the nature of the claim which may be made before the authority, viz., claims arising out of deduction or delay in payment of wages of persons employed; and
(iv) to claims of persons employed in or paid in the areas specified in the notification by the Provincial Government.
4. But within the ambit of these limitations the jurisdiction of the tribunal is exclusive and unrestricted. The payment of wages authority opined that it had no jurisdiction to entertain the claim made by the petitioner because the question did not relate to delayed wages but to the legality of the strike and the lockout. Prima facie, the claim was one for delayed wages and for adjudicating upon the claim made by the petitioner, indubitably the authority had to adjudicate upon the legality of the strike and the lock-out but on that account, the claim did not cease to be one for delayed wages.
5. No authority has been cited by Mr. Bhabha in support of the proposition that the authority ceases to have jurisdiction because in adjudicating upon a claim for delayed wages, the legality or the illegality of the strike or lockout falls to be determined. Counsel has fairly conceded that there is no authority which supports the wide proposition enunciated by the authority that because the foundation of the claim made for delayed wages is an alleged illegal lock-out, the jurisdiction of the authority is excluded. In our judgment counsel is right having regard to the phraseology used by the legislature in S. 15 of the Payment of Wages Act in making that concession. Jurisdiction is conferred upon the authority to decide all claims arising out of the deduction of wages. There is no restriction which is either express or implicit in the context in which the expression has been used, an assumption cannot be made that because the claim arising out of a dispute, which may in certain eventualities be adjudicated upon by another tribunal the jurisdiction of the authority is excluded.
6. We are also unable to agree that the only substantial question to be decided in this application for the authority concerns an industrial dispute. The petitioner claims that he has been wrongfully deprived of his right to receive wages, even though he was willing to work. That claim is resisted by the employers on the plea that the petitioner has disentitled himself to receive wages. The substantial question, therefore, is one relating to the right of the petitioner to recover delayed wages. It is true that the right could only be adjudicated upon after deciding whether there had been illegal strike or an illegal lockout.
7. By S. 22 of the Payment of Wages Act the jurisdiction of the civil court is excluded in respect of all matters which are within the cognizance of the authority constituted under the Act. But the jurisdiction of the authority is essentially jurisdiction to deal with disputes, of a civil nature and in the absence of any provision in the Act or any other statutory provision which purports to exclude the jurisdiction of the civil courts of the authority in matters where a question relating to an industrial dispute arises, it will be impossible to hold that the jurisdiction of the authority is by implication, taken away. This Court had occasion to consider the nature of the jurisdiction which is exercised by the authority. In Valajibhai Avcharbhai v. Chimanlal, : (1957)IILLJ186Bom , it was observed that :
'Under S. 15 of the Payment of Wages Act, 1936 the payment of wages authority is bound to decide an application for an order for delayed wages or unlawfully deducted wages and he cannot refuse to decide any question merely on the ground that it is a complicated question.'
8. It is observed :
'But the authority held that because a complicated question was raised he had no jurisdiction to decide the claim. In so holding, in our view, the authority was in error. The legislature has conferred jurisdiction upon the authority to entertain applications by employees for an order for payment of wages alleged to be unlawfully deducted or delayed, and in a claim of that character, all questions which are incidental to the determination of delayed wages or wages unlawfully deducted will, in our judgment, be within the competence of the authority. Even if in the determination of the claim complicated questions arise, we do not think that the authority is entitled to refuse to exercise jurisdiction. There is also no warrant for holding that the jurisdiction of the authority is of a summary character.'
9. It is urged, however, by Mr. Bhabha for the employers that a dispute relating to an illegal strike or an illegal lockout is essentially a representative dispute, i.e., that employers are collectively seeking either to assert or resist the claim made by the employers, and in the event of the authority exercising jurisdiction under the Payment of Wages Act, in an action by an industrial worker against the employers to decide whether there has been any illegal strike or illegal lock-out, it will be in effect trespassing upon the jurisdiction of a competent labour court or the industrial court to decide that question. But under the provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act, there is no right vested either in an employer or in a worker to approach the industrial court or the labour court for obtaining relief. It is only where an appropriate Government makes a reference under S. 10 or under S. 12 of the Act to a competent tribunal under the Industrial Disputes Act that the tribunal or court may decide a dispute relating to an illegal strike or illegal lock-out or other related questions. The possibility of the tribunal deciding such a question on reference made by the Government, where a dispute has arisen between the employers and the workers as a class will not, in our judgment, be sufficient to hold that the jurisdiction of the payment of wages authority to decide whether there has been an illegal strike or an illegal lockout, for the purpose of determining whether the applicant is entitled to receive remuneration claimed by him is by implication excluded. Undoubtedly, the expressions, industrial dispute, lockout and strike are defined by the Industrial Disputes Act and a provision has also been made as to when under the Act, a strike may be regarded as illegal. But as we have already observed there to nothing in the Industrial Disputes Act which prevents the payment of wages authority exercising its jurisdiction, from adjudicating upon matters which are competently within their jurisdiction under the Payment of Wages Act.
10. We are, therefore, of the view that the payment of wages authority was in error in holding that he had no jurisdiction to entertain the petition and to decide it. We, therefore, set aside the order passed by the authority and direct that the authority do proceed to hear the application and decide it on merits. The petitioner will be entitled to his cost from the employers, Messrs. Richardson & Cruddas, Ltd.