1. These petitions arise out of the common order of the labour court Habit, in Applications (LCH) Nos. 101, 138, 139 and 140 of 1965. Those applications were made under S. 33C(2) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, by the employees working in different departments of the Town Municipal Council at Athani.
2. In Writ Petition No. 973 of 1966, arising out of Application (LCH) No. 138 of 1965, 50 employees had claimed 'washing allowance' and the cost of uniform dress. In the remaining three cases, the claims of the employees were for overtime wages and for wages for work done on weekly off days.
3. The petitioner-municipal council resisted all three claims of the employees. The labour court disallowed the claim for cost of the uniform for the employees, but directed the municipal council to supply the uniform to those 50 employees. Their claim for 'washing allowance' was allowed in full. In the three remaining cases, the claims of employees for overtime wages and for wages for work done on weekly off days, were allowed and the petitioner-municipal council was directed to pay several amounts to those employees.
4. Feeling aggrieved by the decision of the labour court, the municipal council has filed these petitions under Arts. 226 and 227 of the constitution.
5. Sri V. S. Gunjal, learned council for the petitioner, challenged the decision of the labour court on the following grounds :
(i) The labour court has no jurisdiction under S. 33C(2) to adjudicate on the disputed claims of the employees.
(ii) The jurisdiction of the labour court to deal with claims for overtime wages and wages for work done on weekly off days, has been barred under S. 20(1) of the Minimum Wages Act.
(iii) The labour court could not entertain the claims barred by time.
(iv) The labour court had no jurisdiction to entertain claims relating to overtime wages and wages for work done in weekly off days during any period prior to the date of coming into operation of S. 33C.
(v) The labour court had no jurisdiction to adjudicate upon the claim for 'washing allowance.'
(vi) The labour court erred in computing the several amounts payable to different groups of employees, in the absence of any issue and in the absence of evidence in that behalf.
6. It is convenient to take up first the last of the above grounds. In Application (LCH) No. 101 of 1965, the parties field a joint memorandum stating that the amounts to which the employee was entitled was Rs. 8,342,32. Hence, the question of determining the amount payable to that employee did not arise in that case. In the three remaining applications, it is true that three was no issue regarding the amounts payable to the employees. Copies of objections filed before the labour court by the municipal council, have not been produced before us. It is not shown that the municipal council had disputed the correctness of several amounts claimed by those employees. In the absence of such objections there was no need for the labour court to frame any issue regarding such amounts. It is not shown that the municipal council had urged before the labour court that such issues should be framed. A certified copy of the order sheet of the labour court has been produced by Sri Gunjal. The entry dated 5 November, 1965 therein states that parties declined to lead evidence and were content merely to submit arguments on the basis of the material on record.
7. In those circumstances, we do not see how the municipal council can have any grievance about determination by the labour court of several amounts payable to different sets of employees.
8. Employment under a local authority is specified as item 6 in part I of the schedule to the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, and hence constitutes a 'scheduled employment' as defined in S. 2(g) of that Act. It was not disputed that the several employees had done overtime work and had worked on certain weekly off days, and were entitled to extra wages therefor under Ss. 13(1)(c) and 14 of the Minimum Wages Act.
9. Elaborating the first ground, Sri Gunjal argued that S. 33C(2) only provides a machinery for enforcing payment of an amount indisputably due to a workman, and that if any claim of the workman is disputed by the employer, the labour court has no jurisdiction under S. 33C(2) of the Industrial Disputes Act to adjudicate upon the claim. The pronouncement of the Supreme Court in Central Bank of India Ltd. v. P. S. Rajagopalan [1963 - II L.L.J. 89], is a complete answer to this contention. Rejecting a similar contention, Gajendragadkar, J. (as he then was), who spoke for the Court stated (at p. 95) :
'... The claim under S. 33C(2) clearly postulates that the determination of the question about computing the benefit in terms of money may, in same cases, have to be preceded by an enquiry into the existence of the right and such enquiry may be held incidental to the main determination which has been assigned to the labour court by Sub-sec (2) ... We must accordingly hold that S. 33C(2) takes within its purview cases of workmen who claimed that benefit to which they are entitled should be computed in terms of money, even though the right to the benefit on which the claim is based is disputed by the employer ...'
10. As the employees had clearly a right to get wages for overtime work and for work on weekly off days, the labour court had jurisdiction to determine the amount payable by the municipal council to its employees in spite of the municipal council disputing that claim.
11. To appreciate the second ground urged by Sri Gunjal it is necessary to set out certain provisions of the Minimum Wages Act.
12. Section 20 of the Minimum Wages Act provided that an employee may apply to an authority appointed by the Government under this section, for enforcing any claim arising out of payment of less than the minimum rates of wages or in respect of payment of wages for overtime work or for days of rest or for work done on such days. Under S. 20 of the Act the Judicial Magistrate, First Class, Athani, has been appointed by the government as the authority to hear and decide such claims.
13. The proviso to S. 20(2) requires that every such application shall be presented within six months from the date on which the minimum wage or other amounts became payable. The further proviso to S. 20(2) employers such authority to condone, for sufficient season, any delay in making such application.
14. Section 24 of the Minimum Wages Act bars the jurisdiction of Court to entertain suits for recovery of any sum which can or could have been recovered by an application under S. 20 of that Act.
15. Sri Gunjal contended that as the claims of the employees could have been enforced by making an application under S. 20 of the Minimum Wages Act, to the Judicial Magistrate, Athani, the jurisdiction of the labour court under S. 33C(2) of the Industrial Disputes Act, was barred.
16. As the claims of the employees for wages for overtime work and for work on weekly off days, amount to claims for money which they are entitled to receive from the employer, there is no reason why such claims should not fall within the ambit of S. 33C(2) of the Industrial Disputes Act. There is nothing in S. 33C(2) to exclude claims that can or could have been enforced under S. 20 of the Minimum Wages Act. Section 24 or the Minimum Wages Act bars only the jurisdiction of civil Courts to entertain suits in respect of such claims, and does not purport to bar the jurisdiction of the labour court under S. 33C(2) of the Industrial Disputes Act.
17. But Sri Gunjal argued that the jurisdiction of the labour court is barred by necessary implication in respect of claims falling within the ambit of S. 20 of the Minimum Wages Act. In support of this contention Sri Gunjal strongly relied on the following observations of the Supreme Court in Bhim Sen v. State of Uttar Pradesh [A.I.R. 1965 S.C. 435 at 438] :
'... Exclusion of jurisdiction of a Court of general jurisdiction, can be brought about by the sitting up of a Court of limited jurisdiction in respect of a limited field, only if the vesting of the exercise of that limited jurisdiction is clear and operative.'
18. The above observation can only apply to a Court of general jurisdiction when the legislature constitutes a special Court or tribunal and confers on it jurisdiction to deal with any special matter, and the intention of the legislature to exclude such matters from Court of general jurisdiction can be reasonably inferred.
19. But the labour court cannot be regarded as a Court of general jurisdiction. It is as much a special tribunal as the authority appointed under S. 20 of the Minimum Wages Act. Each of these special tribunals has jurisdiction in respect of matters specified in the enactments constituting them and in any other enactment. There may be overlapping of jurisdiction of these special tribunals, over some matters. There is nothing strange or unusual in more than one forum having jurisdiction over the same matter. If the legislature has conferred jurisdiction on more than one forum to adjudicate upon a certain matter, a party can approach any one of those forum unless the jurisdiction of either of them is barred expressly or by necessary implication. In Shamnagger Jute Factory Company v. S. N. Modak the workmen had raised a dispute regarding the wages due to them during the period of a lookout. The Government had referred that dispute to the industrial tribunal under S. 10 of the Industrial Disputes Act. The employer contended that the jurisdiction of the industrial tribunal to go into the question of such wages was barred as the claim to such wages could be determined under S. 15 of the Payment of Wages Act, 1936. That section enables an employee to make an application to the authority appointed by the Government under that section, where payment of wages have been delayed or where any unlawful deduction had been made from the wages payable to him. Such application should be made within twelve months from the date on which the payment of wages was due or on which such unlawful deduction was made. Such authority is empowered to determine such claims of the employee and to direct payment of wages or to refund the amount deducted. Section 22 of that Act bars the jurisdiction of the civil Courts to entertain any claim which comes within the ambits of S. 15. Rejecting the contention of the employer, the Federal Court said :
'The only additional argument urged before us was that claim to such payment should be determined under the Payment of Wages Act, because S. 15 of that Act creates the tribunal and under S. 22(d) of the Act, the jurisdiction of civil Courts to hear a suit for wages is excluded. In our opinion, this argument is unsound. Section 22(d) only prevents a suit for wages. It does not exclude other proceeding permitted by law to enforce payment ...'
20. Sri Gunjal relied on the decision of a Bench of Madhya Pradesh High Court in Laxman Tulisiram v. Dayalal Meghji & Co. [1968 - I L.L.J. 139]. There the petitioner had made an application under S. 33C(2) of the Industrial Disputes Act for recovering from the employer the difference between the wages actually paid to him for certain period and the wages payable to him under the Madhya Pradesh Minimum Wages Fixation Act, 1962. The labour court, Raipur, rejected that application on the ground that it had no jurisdiction to entertain the same. The correctness of the decision of the labour court was challenged before the Madhya Pradesh High Court which upheld the view taken by the labour court. Dixit, C.J., who spoke for the Court, stated the conclusion thus (at p. 142) :
'In our opinion, there is no indication whatsoever either in S. 33C(2) of the Industrial Disputes Act or in S. 15 of the Payment of Wages Act or in the Supreme Court decision in the case of Central Bank of India [1963 - II L.L.J. 89] (vide supra), that the scope of S. 33C(2) is wide enough to include claims under S. 2(vi) of the Payment of Wages Act.'
21. If we examine the reasoning of the Madhya Pradesh High Court, it is seen that it took the view that claims other that those under a settlement or an award or under the provisions of Chap. V-A of the Industrial Disputes Act, do not come within the scope of S. 33C(2). With all respect to their lordships, we are unable to agree with that view. Though their lordships have considered the decision of the Supreme Court in Central Bank of India v. P. S. Rajagopalan [1963 - II L.L.J. 89] (vide supra) with great respect, we think that they have missed the significance of the following pronouncement of the Supreme Court :
'We must accordingly hold that S. 33C(2) takes within its purview cases of workmen who claimed that the benefit to which they are entitled should be computed in terms of money, even though the right to the benefit on which their claim is based is disputed by their employers.'
22. The decision of the Supreme Court in Bombay Gas Company v. Gopal Bhiva [1963 - II L.L.J. 608] was cited before the Bench of Madhya Pradesh High Court. In Bombay Gas Company case (vide supra) the workmen moved the labour court to compute the benefit which they claimed to be entitled to as a result of an award made by the industrial tribunal in the year 1950. The application before the labour court was made in the year 1958. The labour court allowed the claim of the workmen. Before the Supreme Court it was contended for the employer that the labour court could not have allowed the claim of the workmen for wages, made after eight years as that claim had to be made within one year under the Payment of Wages Act (as modified by a local amendment in the State of Maharashtra) and that the workmen could not get over that period of limitation by making a claim before another tribunal, namely, the labour court. The Supreme Court upheld the decision of the labour court.
23. However, the Bench of Madhya Pradesh High Court took the view that that decision of the Supreme Court does not afford any justification whatsoever for holding that a claim which can be made under S. 15 of the Payment of Wages Act can also be made under S. 33C(2) of the Industrial Disputes Act. But as pointed out by a Bench of the Punjab High Court in Taran Taran Municipality v. State [1967 - I L.L.J. 568 at 573] if the authorised under the Industrial Disputes Act had no jurisdiction to deal with the claim which could have been determined by the authority under the Payment of Wages Act, the Supreme Court would have held so and thrown out the claim of the employees on this ground alone that their remedy lay under the Payment of Wages Act. Their lordships of Madhya Pradesh High Court appear to have overlooked this aspect of Bombay Gas Company case [1963 - II L.L.J. 608] (vide supra).
24. We are in respectful agreement with the view taken by the Bench of the Punjab High Court in Taran Taran Municipality case [1967 - I L.L.J. 568 at 573] (vide supra) that the decision of the Supreme Court case in Bombay Gas Company case [1963 - II L.L.J. 608] (vide supra) supports the view that the tribunals under the Industrial Disputes Act have jurisdiction to adjudicate upon disputes coming within the scope of that Act despite the fact that such dispute could also be decided under the Minimum Wages Act.
25. It was next contended by Sri Gunjal that for enforcing the claims of the employees under S. 20 of the Minimum Wages Act the time-limit is six months and that as their claims had been barred under the Act, the employees should not be permitted to enforce such claim by merely changing the forum, and that we must hold that the labour court had no jurisdiction to entertain such time barred claim.
26. While the legislature has provided a time-limit for an application under sub-section (1) of S. 33C no such time-limit is provided for an application under sub-section (2) of that section. The time-limit of six months prescribed under S. 20 of the Minimum Wages Act is only for an application under that section. We do not see how that time-limit can have any relevance to an application under S. 33C(2) of the Industrial Disputes Act. The period of limitation prescribed under S. 20 of the Minimum Wages Act does not destroy the right of the employees but only bars the remedy under that Act.
27. Rejecting a similar contention in Bombay Gas Company case [1963 - II L.L.J. 608] (vide supra), the Supreme court stated (at p. 613);
'... It seems to us that where the legislature has made no provision for limitation, it would not be open to the Courts to introduce any such limitation on the ground of fairness or justice. The words of S. 33C(2) are plain and unambiguous and it would be the duty of the labour court to give effect to the said provision without consideration of limitation ...'
28. It was contended by Sri Gunjal that the labour court had no jurisdiction to adjudicate on that part of the claims of the employees which related to any period prior to 28 August, 1956, the date of coming into force of the Industrial Disputes (Amendment and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1956, by which S. 33C was inserted in the Industrial Disputes Act. Sri Gunjal argued that S. 33C has no retrospective operation and hence claims prior to 28 August, 1956 cannot be adjudicated upon under that section.
29. Section 33C does not create any new right. It only creates a forum and confers jurisdiction on it to adjudicate on certain claims and to grant relief. When a special tribunal is newly constituted and given power to adjudicate upon certain claims and to grant relief, there is no reason why its jurisdiction should not extent to claims that arose before it (the tribunal) came into existence. The exercise of the jurisdiction by such tribunal is only prospective and not retrospective. As stated in Maxwell's Interpretation of Statutes (11th Edn.) at p. 211, a statute does not operate retrospectively merely because a part of the requisites for its action is drawn from a time antecedent to its passing.
30. Lastly it was contended by Sri Gunjal that the labour court had no jurisdiction to entertain the claim of the employees in application (L.C.H.) No. 138 of 1965 for 'washing allowance' He argued that the employees had no right under any contract or conditions of their service, to such allowance and any such claim could only have been the subject-matter of an industrial adjudication on a reference under S. 10 of the Industrial Disputes Act, but the labour court could not grant any relief for such a claim. The employees have claimed 'washing allowance' on the basis of a settlement dated 7 December, 1964 between the municipal council and its employees. It is such settlement that gives a right to the employees to claim 'Washing allowance.' In view of that settlement, the labour court had jurisdiction to adjudicate on that claim under S. 33C(2).
31. All the contentions of the petitioner fail and we dismiss these petitions. But in the circumstances, we make no order as to costs.