1.The petitioner is a Limited Company registered under the Indian Companies Act and is running a cotton textile mill at Pune. The first respondent, hereinafter referred to as the 'respondent', is a trade union which is the representative union as far as the petitioner is concerned. The petitioner's mill is governed by the provisions of the Bombay Industrial Relations Act and hence the necessity of mentioning that the respondent is the representative union. The second respondent is the Member of the Industrial Court at Pune before whom a complaint, being Complaint (ULP) No. 244 of 1984, has been filed by the respondent under the provisions of the Maharashtra Recognition of Trade Unions and Prevention of Unfair Labour Practices Act, hereinafter referred to as the 'PULP Act'.
2. The complaint mentioned above alleges that the petitioner is often laying off its employees without following the procedure prescribed under Section 25M of the Industrial Disputes Act. It is alleged that the petitioner has, in law, to follow the said procedure which it is not doing. The complaint further alleges that the petitioner has not applied to the State Government at any time before laving off its employees. The details of the said action of the petitioner have been given in the annexures to the complaint. The complaint thereafter proceeds to state as follows:-
'The respondent has thus illegally and high handedly and forcibly laid off these employees and refused them work and also refused them wages for the days they were laid off as shown in the Annexures 'A' and 'B' to the complaint. The complainant states that the said actions of the respondent thus amount to the acts of force, and violence since the said acts are illegal, invalid, in contravention of the express and mandatory provisions of law and also involve elements of force inasmuch as the employees so laid off have been prevented by force by the respondent and its officers from joining their duties on the dates shown in the Annexures. The respondent has thus committed the unfair labour practice under Item 10 of Schedule IV of the Act...'
The respondent also filed an application for interim relief and prayed that during the pendency of the complaint the petitioner may be directed not to lay off any employees without obtaining the permission of the State Government.
3. The petitioner resisted the said complaint as well as the application for interim relief by contending that even if all the facts alleged in the complaint are accepted at their face value, the act of the petitioner in the instant case cannot amount to an act of force or of violence as mentioned in Item 10 of Schedule IV of the PULP Act. In other words, it was contended that the act complained of was not an unfair labour practice at all and, therefore, the Industrial Court exercising jurisdiction under Section 30 of the PULP Act could neither entertain the complaint note grant interim relief on the application made in that behalf by the respondent.
4. The Industrial Court at Pune by its judgment and order dated 18th August 1984, gave a direction under Section 30(2) of the PULP Act that:
'Until further orders, the Respondent should not give lay off to its workmen without following the procedure prescribed in Section 25M of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947'.
It is against this order that the petitioner has approached this Court under Article 227 of the Constitution of India.
5. In the normal course it would have been permissible for me to decline to go into the merits of this case because what has been done by the Industrial Court is to require the petitioner to follow the law. But having gone through the facts and circumstances of this case and the law governing the jurisdiction of the Court under the PULP Act I thought it necessary to go into the rival contentions of the parties and to decide the question arising because it is a pure question of law going to the jurisdiction of the Courts under the provisions of the PULP Act.
6. From the averments in the complaint extracted above it is noticed that the case of the respondent was that 'the said actions of the respondent (petitioner before me ) thus amount to acts of force and violence since the said acts are illegal, invalid'. It was also mentioned that the said acts of the petitioner involved elements of force inasmuch as the employees so laid off have been prevented by force by the petitioner and its officers from joining their duties. The unfair labour practice alleged by the respondent was thus based upon two averments. First was that the acts of the petitioner are illegal and in contravention of the express and mandatory provisions of law amounting to acts of force and violence and secondly that the petitioner and its officers are preventing by force the employees of the petitioner from joining their duties. In so far as the second averment is concerned there is no material at all to hold that apart from declaring the lay off, allegedly in contravention of the provisions contained in Section 25M of the Industrial Disputes Act, the petitioner or its officers are actually by force preventing the employees of the petitioner-Company from joining their duties. It. has not been held by the Industrial Court that such force has been employed either by the petitioner or by its officers in preventing the employees from joining their duties, Therefore, the only question that is to be decided is whether an act of the employer, which is illegal or in contravention of the express and mandatory provisions of law, would necessarily amount to an unfair labour practice as defined under the PULP Act.
7. Section 3(16) of the PULP Act defines 'unfair labour practice' to mean the unfair labour practices as defined in Section 26 of the said Act. Section 26 says that 'unfair labour practices' mean any of the practices' listed in Schedules II, III and IV. We are here concerned with Item 10 of Schedule IV which says: 'To indulge in act of force or violence' is to indulge in an unfair labour practice. Therefore, the question is whether by declaring a lay off in contravention of the provisions contained in Section 25M of the Industrial Disputes Act an employer can be said to indulge in an act of force or violence. Merely because an employer contravenes a provision of some Act or even indulges in an illegal act it cannot be said that he is indulging in an unfair labour practice. In General Workers' Union v. Municipal Council, Sangli, 1984 (48) F.L.R. 411, this Court has. pointed out that there is a difference between an illegal act and an unfair labour practice. A complainant under the PULP Act has to prove that there is an unfair labour practice on the part of the employer and not merely that the act is illegal. It has also been pointed out that the remedy for challenging an act which is illegal but does not amount to an unfair labour practice is different and not by way of a complaint under the PULP Act. On the facts of Sangli Municipal Council's case, what was found by this Court was that the employer was, if at all, guilty of an illegal act which did not amount to an unfair labour practice within the meaning of the PULP Act.
8. The Industrial Court in the impugned judgment has held that the act of laying off itself amounts to indulging in an act of force as mentioned in Item 10 of Schedule IV. While so holding the Industrial Court has referred to and relied upon a judgment of the Supreme Court in People's Union for Democratic Rights v. Union of India : (1982)IILLJ454SC . The Industrial Court regarded that judgment as an authority 'for the proposition that any factor which deprives a person of a choice of alternatives and compels him to adopt one particular course of action, may properly be regarded as force, and if a situation is created in which a person would be acting not as a free agent, with a choice between alternatives, but under the compulsion of economic circumstances, there would be force'. Since the Industrial Court has referred to and relied upon a judgment of the Supreme Court, it would be necessary to briefly refer to the context in which the word 'force' came to be interpreted by the Supreme Court in that judgment.
9. In the case in question, which is well known as the 'Asiad Case', the Supreme Court was examining the ambit of Article 23 of the Constitution of India which says, that 'traffic in human beings and beggar and other similar forms of forced labour are prohibited'. While considering the phrase 'forced labour' occurring in Article 23 of the Constitution, the Supreme Court, in paragraph 15 of its judgment, noted that 'forced labour' may arise in several ways.
Proceeding further the Supreme Court said:
'It may be physical force which may compel a person to provide labour or service to another or it may be force exerted through a legal provision such as a provision for imprisonment or fine in case the employee fails to provide labour or service or it may even be compulsion arising from hunger and poverty, want and destitution.'
Thereafter occurs the sentence on which the Industrial Court placed reliance namely 'Any factor which deprives a person of a choice of alternatives and compels him to adopt one particular course of action may properly be regarded as 'force' and if labour or service is compelled as a result of such force it would be forced labour,' The sentence on which the Industrial Court placed reliance itself shows that when the force is used by one person it compels another person to follow a course of action. In other words, implicit in the word 'force' is the concept of an action that is being imposed upon another. If, for example, one person indulges in an act which does not compel or coerce another person to do a particular act, then it cannot be said that the first act amounts to force.
10. The Supreme Court judgment itself shows that force may be of various types and may be used in different circumstances. Looking to the context in which the words 'acts of force or violence' are used in the PULP Act, to my mind it is clear that the force in the Act means an action which is designed to compel another to do an act or refrain from doing an act. Though the dictionary meaning may not be wholly determinative of the connotation of the word used in this Act it would be useful to refer to the same as an aid to understanding the meaning of the words used in the Act. The word 'force' used as a verb has been defined in the Oxford English Dictionary to mean to overcome the resistance of or to compel one to act prematurely or to adopt a policy he dislikes. It also means to compel or constrain or oblige a person to do a thing or to drive a person to or into a course of action. In the instant case it can be seen that when the employer lays off the workmen it is not for the purpose of compelling them to do a particular thing or not to do a particular thing. The action involved in laying off the workmen is not intended to compel or coerce the workmen to do or not to do a particular thing. It is true, as has been stated by Miss Buch appearing for the respondent and also as has been mentioned by the Industrial Court, that as a result of the action taken by the employer the workmen concerned are required to accept lesser wages than the wages to which they would have been entitled if they were fully employed. But this situation is a consequence flowing from the action of the employer himself. It is not an action which the employees are forced or obliged to take. It is in this sense that the action of the employer in laying off the workmen cannot be said to be an act of force.
11. It has been urged with some justification by Mr. Shrikrishna appearing for the petitioner that when the legislature used the word 'force' along with the word 'violence' it necessarily meant that both the words belong to the same category of actions. The maxim noscitur a sociis has been invoked in interpreting the words in this provision. The word 'force' means an act indulged in by a person and it must necessarily be some physical act. When the force is applied to another person it results in violence. Force itself may not necessarily be violent though it may threaten to be violent. So unless there is a physical act on the part of the employer compelling or coercing the employees to do a particular act or not to do a particular act it cannot amount to an act of force within the meaning of Item 10 of Schedule IV. This is undoubtedly one aspect of the act of force. But it is not inconceivable that an employer may indulge in an act with a view to coercing the workmen to surrender one way or another. In such a case the act can be said to be an act of force. However, merely because an employer is indulging in an action which may be found to be illegal under the provisions of an Act like the Industrial Disputes Act, it does not necessarily follow that he is indulging in an unfair labour practice such as indulging in an act offeree or violence.
12. Miss Buch did not canvass the proposition that merely because an act is illegal it must amount to an unfair labour practice. She, however, contended that the word 'force' used in Item 10 of Schedule IV of the PULP Act should be liberally construed and should be held to include compulsions of various kinds or a show of strength or power on the part of the employer. Even if the contention of Miss Buch is accepted I do not see how the action of the employer in laying off the workmen would amount to an act of force properly understood. As I have already mentioned, the use of force must be to compel or oblige another person to act in a particular manner. That is not the case here. Merely because the result of an act or the necessary consequence of an act is the payment of lesser wages to the workmen, it cannot be said that the said consequence was the intended purpose of the act of force indulged in by the employer. Interpreted in either way, in my opinion, the act complained of in the instant case cannot be said to be an act of force.
13. In the result, this petition must succeed. The order dated 18th of August, 1984 passed by the Industrial Court at Pune below Exhibit U-2 in Complaint (ULP) No. 244 of 1984 is set aside.
There will, however, be no order as to costs in this petition.