(1) The workmen of the Karnal Kaithal Co-operative Transport Society Limited, Karnal, have approached this Court under Article 227 of the Constitution on the following allegations. The workmen of the different Transport Companies operating in Karnal district, including the Karnal Kaithal Co-operative Transport Society Limited, Karnal, formed themselves into a Trade Union Called the District Motor Transport Workers' Union, Karnal. This Union served a notice of demands upon the Management of the Karnal Kaithal Co-operative Transport Society Limited, and after conciliation proceedings held by the Labour Inspector a settlement under Section 12(3) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, was arrived at between the parties on 21st August,1953. One of the terms of the settlement was that the Society extended recognition to the Union. In the beginning of 1954 the Society, according to the writ petition, started taking steps to break up the Union and as a measure of victimisation dismissed 18 workmen whom it considered to be active trade unionists. The Union. thereupon, raised an industrial dispute and the Punjab Government on 17th June, 1954, Referred the dispute for adjudication to the Industrial tribunal, Punjab, Jullundur, as per Reference No.8 of 1954.
This Reference was challenged by the Management in this Court by means of Civil Writ No. 247 of 1954, Which also gave rise to Letters Patent Appeal No. 22 of 1955, Several pleas are said to have been raised by the Society in the Writ proceedings, but the right of Union to represent the workmen was not disputed nor was it urged that the workmen of the Society or even a majority of them were members of any other Union After the dismissal of the Letters patent appeal in 1958, the Tribunal proceeded with the adjudication, and the Society when raised a plea that out of the 18 employees, whose dismissal was the subject-matter of the adjudication proceedings, 8 were only suspended before the date of Reference and that after the date they were dismissed with the result that the Tribunal could not go into the question of their dismissal. This plea was upheld by the Tribunal on 1st June, 1958 with the observation that those workmen could have a new reference made, if so advised.
In 1956, according to the petitioners, another industrial dispute arose between the society and its workmen as represented by the said Union which was also referred by Punjab Government for adjudication (Reference No. 34 of 1956). In this Reference an award was made on 29th November, 1956, and in these proceedings also the right of the Union to represent the workmen of the Society is said to have entered into another settlement with the Union under section 12(3) of the Industrial Disputes Act. In 1958, again an industrial dispute arose between the Society and its workmen, the later being represented by the Union. This dispute was also referred for adjudication by the Punjab Government, being Reference No. 1 of 1958. In this Reference an award was made on 9th August, 1958. In these proceedings also the right of the Union to represent the workmen of the Society was not challenged.
(2) As a result of the decision of the Industrial Tribunal dated 1st June, 1958, a fresh dispute about the dismissal of 8 workmen was referred by the Punjab Government for adjudication to the Labour Court (Reference No. 53 of 1958). The Labour Court has by means of the award dated 28th March, 1960, published in the Government Gazette dated 6th May, 1960, held that there was no industrial dispute which could form the subject-matter of a valid reference. Out of the 8 workmen, two workmen, Sarvshri Jai Gopal and Nand Lal, drivers, had admittedly died before the reference. The remaining six workmen had according to the Labour Court, individual disputes with the Management, and the District Motor Transport workers' Union, Karnal, did not, and indeed could not, represent those workmen. The labour Court based its decision on the finding that all the employees of the Society are members of the Karnal Transport Employees Union, and that none of them had espoused the cause of the six workmen. Out of 80 workmen of the respondent-Society, 70 had been examined and none of them supported the dismissed employees or even felt interested in them.
The Labour Court also observed in its order that the six workmen had not been dismissed simultaneously or as a result of the same enquiry but were actually dismissed on distinct occasions for different reasons. In the opinion of the Labour Court the workmen, who had espoused the cause of an individual, must form a substantial section of the establishment of which the aggrieved workmen belonged, and, similarly, the Union which espouses the cause of an individual workman should either comprise of the workmen of that establishment or should at least have as its members a substantial section of the workmen of that establishment, who, as a group, should espouse the aggrieved workman's cause. In support of this view the Labour Court made a reference to Budge Budge Municipality v. P. R. Mukherjee, 1953-1 Lab LJ 195 : (AIR 1953 SC 58), Central Provinces Transport Service Ltd. Nagpur v. Raghunath Gopal, (S) AIR 1957 SC 104, Kamdar Textile Ltd. v. Industrial Tribunal (1) Madras, AIR 1951 Mad 616, South Bihar Sugar Mills Ltd., Bihta v. State of Bihar, (1956) 2 Lab LJ 500 ' (AIR 1956 Pat 274), S. Taki Bilgrami v. The Hindu, Bombay, 1960-1 Lab LJ 110, Express Newspapers (Private) Ltd. v. State of Madras, 1956-1 Lab LJ 498: ((S) AIR 1956 Mad 115), Workmen of Dimakuchi Tea Estate v. Management of Dimakuchi Tea Estate, 1958-1 Lab LJ 500: (AIR 1958 SC 353) and an unreported decision of a Division Bench of this Court in Girson Textile Mills, Ludhiana v. Om Prakash, L. P. A. No.322 of 1959 D/- 15-2--1960 (Punj), Besides some other decisions.
(3) The short question which arises for my decision is whether the dispute in question constitutes in law an industrial dispute. The matter having been raised in a petition under Article 227 of the Constitution. I do not think it is open to me to go into the correctness or otherwise of the facts found by the labour Court. I would thus merely proceed to consider the question whether the dispute raised in the present case is in law an industrial dispute on the assumption that the conclusions of fact arrived at by the Court below are correct. Shri Anand Swaroop has posed the question for determination to be: whether it is necessary that a substantial number of co-workers of the aggrieved workman must espouse his cause and continue to do so throughout the period of the dispute. According to the counsel, the dispute really arose as far back as 1954, and that merely because recently the Management has managed to bring into existence a new Union, should not deprive the workmen of their right to have their dispute settled by the Labour Court.
(4) It has to be borne in mind that, according to the finding of the Labour Court, all the employees of the Society are members of the Karnal Transport Employees Union, Karnal, and none of them had espoused or now espouses the cause of the six workmen. According to the Court's finding, out of the total workmen numbering about 80, 70 of them have actually appeared as witnesses and have not supported or felt interested in the dismissed workmen. The six workmen, with whom we are now concerned, were also, according to the conclusions of the Labour Court, dismissed on different occasions for different cause. It is in this background that the question posed before me has to be decided.
(5) The unreported decision of a Division Bench of this Court in LPA No. 322 of 1959, D/- 15-2-1960 (Punj) is binding on me and unless the Supreme Court or a larger Bench of this Court lays down the legal position differently, I must follow the ratio of this decision. Dulat, J., who wrote the Principal judgment, after referring to (S) AIR 1957 SC 104, observed that the Union or a number of workmen mentioned in the Supreme Court judgment obviously meant the Union of the workmen of the establishment concerned and not any other Union. According to the learned Judge, the only thing that could convert the dispute relating to the dismissal of Om Prakash in that case was the taking up of the grievance by the workers of the establishment, and this in the unreported case never happened. Another Union, not of the establishment concerned, decided to represent Om Prakash's grievances but there was nothing on that record to show that the said Union effectively represented the workers of the establishment in that particular matter.
G. D. Khosla, C. J., while agreeing with Dulat, J., added a note because the matter was considered to be of some little importance, and, after referring to the definition if the term 'industrial dispute' and the decision in (S) AIR 1957 SC 104 observed that out of 150 workmen of the establishment concerned, about 40 had impliedly supported the cause of the dismissed workmen. The learned Chief Justice then proceeded to observe that the number of persons, who impliedly gave their support to the workmen concerned, was not substantial with the result that this Court would be extremely reluctant to exercise its extraordinary powers under Article 226 of the Constitution. On behalf of the petitioners the correctness of this decision has been questioned and the counsel has contended that in law it is not necessary to have a substantial number of an aggrieved person's co-workmen to espouse his cause to give the dispute the status of an industrial dispute. He has, similarly, contended that the Union also need not be a Union of which a sub-stantial number of workmen of the establishment concerned are members. The counsel has tried to emphasise that if the 6 workmen were dismissed separately and cause of each one of them were espoused by the remaining 5 is might well be considered to be an industrial dispute.
(6) Normally speaking, the question of employer-employee relationship is a matter of contract and in a laissez-faire society there was generally no interference by the State in such matters, but with the increased industrialization the outlook of the society has undergone a radical change on account of the glaring inequalities of the employer-employee relationship and now the principle of collective bargaining has been recognised and to some extent controlled by statute in response to the demands of the community. This shift from an individual to social component of justice appears to have been inspired basically by the changing conditions of the industrial activities. In this connection, it is pertinent to make a passing reference to Article 19(1)(c) of the Constitution which guarantees subject to reasonable restriction, in the interests of public, the right to form unions by including such right in Par III, of he Constitution. Article 41, 42 and 43 in Part IV dealing with Directive Principles of State Policy are also deserving of notice when one attempts to understand the Constitutional policy of our Republic in the matter of employer-employee relationship. In this background one has to construe the provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act but, at the same time, one should bear in mind that it is the language used in the Act itself which gives us the law, Courts' function being merely to construe those provisions in the light of the guidance afforded by the Constitution.
(7) Now the Supreme Court has clearly laid down that the Industrial Disputes Act does not provide for reference of an individual dispute, and that it is only an industrial dispute which the Government can lawfully refer for settlement or adjudication; and this indeed is not disputed by the petitioners. It is also indisputable that the factual existence of a dispute amounts to an industrial dispute is a justiciable issue. The petitioners' argument is that the dispute really started in 1954, and that if that dispute was at the outset sponsored by the recognised Union then the dispute cannot later cease to be an industrial dispute merely because the Management has succeeded in setting up a rival Union which does not espouse the cause of workmen concerned. I am however unable to find that the present dispute actually started in 1954 or that the management has set up a rival Union.
(8) At this stage I may briefly dispose of another contention raised by Shri Anand Swaroop. He has argued that the word 'substantial' is too vague and therefore the law, which provides that substantial workmen must espouse or take up the cause of the workmen to clothe the dispute with the quality of an industrial dispute must be struck down as bad law. The counsel has by way of analogy made a reference to Kumbha Mawji v. Dominion of India, AIR 1953 SC 313. This contention is basically unsustainable because we are not dealing with any statute in which the word 'substantial' has been used. The question of striking down a law as unconstitutional therefore does not arise. Besides, the word 'substantial' employed in the present context by G. D. Khosla, C. J., in Girson Textile Mills' case LPA NO.322 of 1959, D/- 15-2-1960 (Punj) is not so vague, illusory or uncertain as was the case in the Supreme Court decision.
(9) The question, however, which does arise before me is: is it necessary that there should be a substantial number of co-workmen of the aggrieved employee in order to convert an individual dispute into an industrial dispute and also whether it is not possible to hold that in the instant case each individual workmen's dispute having been sponsored by five of his co-workers the dispute might legitimately be described to bean industrial dispute.
(10) Recently Kapur, J., speaking for the Court in the State of Bihar v. Kripa Shankar, AIR 1961 SC 304 stated the position thus:-
'It would be an erroneous view if it were said that for a dispute to constitute an industrial dispute it is a requisite condition that it should be sponsored by a recognised Union or that all the workmen of an industrial establishment should be parties to it. A dispute becomes an industrial dispute even where it is sponsored by a Union which is not registered as in the instant case or where the dispute raised is by some only of the workmen because in either case the matter falls within section 18(3) (a) and (d) of the Act.'
In Newspaper Ltd. v. U. P. S. I. Tribunal, AIR 1960 SC 1328, to which reference is made in Kripa Shankar's case, Gajendragadkar, J., has said that once it is shown that a body of workmen, either acting through their Union or otherwise, sponsored a workman's case, it becomes an industrial dispute. In Ram Prasad v. Industrial Tribunal, AIR 1961 SC 857 K. C. Das Gupta, J., who prepared the judgment on behalf of the Bench, spoke thus:--
'It is now well settled that a dispute between an individual workman and an employer cannot be an industrial dispute as defined in section 2(k) of the Industrial Disputes Act unless it is taken up by a Union of the workmen or by a considerable number of workmen. In (S)AIR 1957 SC 104 Mr. Justice Venkatarama Ayyar speaking for the Court pointed out after considering numerous decisions in this matter that the preponderance of judicial opinion was clearly in favour of the view that a dispute between an employer and a single employee cannot per see be an industrial dispute but may become one if it is up by a Union or a number of workmen.'
(11) These decisions, though they do not lay down in terms that a substantial number of co-workmen of the aggrieved employee must take up or espouse his cause or that, the Union espousing such cause must represent a substantial number of his co-workmen, they also do not in clear terms suggest that the view taken by the Division Bench of this Court in Girson Textile Mills' case, LPA No.322 of 1959, D/- 15-2-1960 (Punj) is wrong in law. Being, therefore, bound by the Division Bench decision, I must hold that the Labour Court was right in its view.
(12) The next question does not on this view arise for consideration because five workmen can hardly be described to be substantial number out of the total strength of 80 workmen employed in the Society in question.
(13) Assuming, however, that the decision of the Labour Court is not quite correct, the question arises: should I interfere with that decision under Article 227 of the Constitution? May be that the Management has succeeded in isolating the workmen who were enthusiastic unionists and has thus succeeded in dispensing with their services, but the question for me is whether under the law it is open to me to interfere with the impugned order under Article 227 of the Constitution. I do not think so. It has been held by the Supreme Court that the scope of Article 227 in the matter of interference with the orders of subordinate tribunals is no wider than Art. 226. I am, therefore, constrained to disallow the present petition which is accordingly dismissed but with no order as to costs.
(14) Petition dismissed.