(1) The Buckingham and Carnatic Co., Ltd.--I shall hereafter call it the Mills-employs in all some 14,700 persons. Of these about 700 belong to the clerical establishment. 434 members of the clerical establishment belong to the Buckingham and Carnatic Mills Staff Union. Some 10,000 of the workmen including a few members of the clerical establishment belong to the Madras Labour Union. In March 1955 the Madras Labour Union wrote to the management making various demands on behalf of the employees of the mills. Conciliation proceedings were started, but they ended in failure.
In November 1955, the Government of Madras referred various matters in issue between the Madras Labour Union and the Mills to the industrial Tribunal, Madras. Subsequently the Labour Union and the management agreed that the disputes might be referred to arbitration by a sitting Judge of this court, and, Ramaswami Goundar J. was appointed arbitrator. On 19-1-1957 he made an award.
(2) In the clerical establishment of the Mills are a number of persons engaged in working various calculating machines. They are called Comptists and Machine operators. Subsequent to the award which Ramaswami Goundar J. made on 19th January 1957,, the Buckingham and Carnatic Mills Staff Union raised a dispute about the 'fixation of scales of pay for Comptists and Machine operators.' The Government took the view that this was an industrial dispute, and, on 1st December 1958, made an order referring this question for adjudication to the Industrial Tribunal, Madras. By a subsequent order made on 4th February 1959 the Government enlarged their reference so as to read as follows:
'Fixation of scales of pay for the Comptists and machine operators and fitment of existing Comptists and Machine operators in the scales of pay, if any, fixed.'
The management filed a counter in which they took the point that the matter that was referred to the Tribunal for adjudication is not an industrial dispute as defined in S. 2(k) of the Industrial disputes Act, 1947. In paragraph 2 they said.
'The management submit that an industrial dispute can be raised in respect of workmen in an industrial undertaking only if the dispute is taken up by a trade union of which the workmen to whom the dispute relates are members and there is a concerted demand for redress by the majority of the workmen in that undertaking.'
The management went on to explain that the majority of the workmen in the Mills had not espoused the cause of the Comptists and the Machine operators and that therefore no industrial dispute within the meaning of the Act had arisen. They raised other pleas with which we are not at present concerned.
(2) The tribunal overruled the preliminary objection which the management had taken and decided to proceed with the enquiry. It observed.
'It, therefore, seems to me that the members of the clerical staff, as they belong to a distinct and well-recognised section, can raise an industrial dispute on matters in which they alone are interested; and in the present case, a majority of the members of the clerical staff support this dispute. The preliminary objection must be overruled.'
These petitions have been filed by the mills for the issue of an appropriate writ to quash the order of the Tribunal taking the view that the matter referred to it for adjudication by the Government is an industrial dispute within the meaning of the Industrial Disputes Act.
(3) I shall first examine the provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act that were referred to during the course of the arguments and that have a bearing on this point. Section 2(k) defines the expression 'industrial dispute' in very comprehensive terms. It includes disputes between employers and employers; it includes disputes between workmen and workmen, and, of course it includes disputes between employers and workmen. All that this definition requires is that the dispute must be connected with the employment of any person or the non-employment of any person or the terms of employment of any person or with the conditions of labour of any person. Taken alone and in isolation from the rest of the Act, the words used are large enough to include even an individual dispute between a single workman and his employer since the words used in the definition are:
'the employment or non-employment... of any person.'
(4) Judicial decisions, however, have held that this is not how the definition should be understood and that individual disputes are not industrial disputes within the meaning of the Act and that individual disputes would become industrial disputes only if they are backed by what has been frequently said to be a substantial number of the employees of the establishment. To some of these decisions I shall presently refer. It is enough at this stage to say that notwithstanding the amplitude of the expression 'industrial dispute' used in the Act, the decisions of the courts have made it plain that individual disputes are outside the scope of the Act.
Section 2(s) defines the word 'workman' as meaning any person employed in any industry to do any skilled or unskilled manual work, any supervisory work, any technical work or any clerical work, for hire or reward. The rest of the definition is not important at this stage. This definition is helpful only to the limited extent of showing that the Act itself recognises that different categories of workmen exist and that it does not lump all employees into one mass or block. Section 2(m) defines 'public utility service.' Clause (ii) of this definition reads.
'Public utility service' means--.......... (ii) any section of an industrial establishment on the working of which the safety of the establishment or the workmen employed therein depends.'
(4a) Mr. Mohan Kumaramangalam, the learned advocate for the Union, laid stress on the fact that this definition speaks of 'any section of an industrial establishment' and that for various purposes of the Act sections of an industrial establishment which belong to a public utility service have been placed in a different category from the other sections. I may explain here that the argument was designed to show that the contention which Mr. Rajah Aiyar put forward on behalf of the mills that there cannot be an industrial dispute within the meaning of the act unless a majority of workmen employed in that establishment back the particular demand runs counter to the scheme of the Act.
(5) I now go to S. 10 of the Act. Sub-section (1) of that section empowers the appropriate Government, if in its opinion any industrial dispute exists or is apprehended, to refer the dispute to a Board for promoting a settlement or to a court for enquiry or to a Labour court or to a Tribunal, as the case may be for adjudication. But the second proviso to this section requires that where the dispute relates to a public utility service and a notice under S. 22 has been given, the appropriate Government shall make a reference unless it considers that the notice has been given frivolously or vexatiously or that it would be inexpedient to make a reference.
Now since by reason of the manner in which 'public utility service' has been defined in the Act, a section of an establishment may by itself fall into the category of a public utility service while the other sections do not, it will be impossible to insist that the dispute raised by that section which belongs to a public utility service is not an industrial dispute unless it has the backing of a majority of the strength of the establishment taken as a whole. Where a dispute concerning any establishment has been or is going to be referred to a Labour Court or Tribunal, the appropriate Government may under S. 10(5), include in the reference other establishments, groups or classes of establishments if the Government are satisfied that they are likely to be interested in or affected by the dispute and they may do so whether or not at the time of such inclusion any dispute exists or is apprehended in that establishment, group or class of establishment.
If even establishments in which there is no dispute whatever can b e included in the reference how can it be insisted on, it was asked, that where a dispute actually exists between the management and a section of its employees that a majority of the total number of the employees under that management should support the dispute.
(6) I how go to S. 18. So far as it is at present relevant sub-section (3) of S. 18 runs as follows:
'A settlement.... or an award of a Labour Court, Tribunal or National Tribunal which has become enforceable shall be binding on.... (d) where a party referred to in clause (a) or clause (b) is composed of workmen, all persons who were employed in the establishment or part of the establishment, as the case may be, to which the dispute relates on the date of the dispute and all persons who subsequently become employed in that establishment or part.'
I would draw attention to the words 'part of the establishment' occurring in this clause. They seem to imply that there can be an adjudication of a dispute between the management and a part of its establishment. That would seem to be inconsistent with the contention of Mr. Rajah Aiyar that the dispute between a management and its establishment in order to be an industrial dispute must have the backing of a majority of the workmen under the particular management. The words of section seem to imply that there can be an industrial dispute between the management and a part of the establishment.
(7) Of the decisions cited before me none is directly in point. They are however helpful in a general way. Of these the earliest is that reported in Kandan Textiles v. Industrial Tribunal, : (1949)NULLLLJ875Mad , the learned Chief Justice observed:
'Some assistance was sought by learned counsel from the provisions of S. 10(2) of the Act which provides that when the parties to a dispute apply for a reference the Government must be satisfied that the person applying represented the majority of such party before making a reference. We do not think that this provision necessarily leads to the conclusion that there could be no industrial dispute unless the majority of workmen is ranged as one of the parties and it must not be overlooked that in S. 10(1) of the Act, there is no such condition which requires to be fulfilled before the Government makes an order referring a dispute to a Tribunal..... This undoubtedly suggests that something more than an individual dispute between a worker or a few workers and the employer is meant by an industrial dispute. It suggests that it must be a collective dispute, i.e., a dispute between the employer on the one hand the entire establishment or a part of the establishment on the other hand in which case it is reasonable to presume that at least a substantial number of the employees in the establishment as a whole or in the concerned part of the establishment should be at dispute.'
(8) This decision was followed in New India Assurance Co. v. Central Govt. Industrial Tribunal Dhanbad, : (1954)IILLJ21Pat , this passage appears:
'In the context of these important provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act it is clear that the 'industrial dispute' referred to and defined in section 2(k) must be construed to mean not a dispute between an individual workman and the management but a dispute which though it may originate in an action with regard to an individual workman, has developed into a dispute in which the majority of the workmen in the establishment are interested.' That words used here, viz., 'as dispute in which the majority of the workmen in the establishment are interested' would seem to support the contention of Mr. Rajah Aiyar. But the learned Judge cites as an authority for this proposition the decision of this court in : (1949)NULLLLJ875Mad . But that decision does not appear to go so far. In fact, lower down, the same learned Judge states:
'An industrial dispute, therefore, involves two elements, viz., (i) the dispute must relate to industrial matters; and (ii) at least on one side of the dispute the disputants must be a body of men acting in collective manner and not individual.'
The matter was examined in great detail by Rajagopalan J. in Sri Rama Vilas Service Ltd. v. State of Madras, AIR 1956 Mad 115. the learned Judge says:
'If, however, the dismissal of an employee is the result of victimisation, if the employees in service or a substantial section of such employees threaten to strike work, or having struck work refuse to resume work, unless the person dismissed is reinstated in other words, if the resuming workmen or a substantial body of them or a union of workmen takes up the cause of the victimised employee and demands his reinstatement, there is an industrial dispute.'
This matter was considered by the Supreme Court in Newspapers Ltd. v. State Industrial Tribunal U. P., (S) : (1957)IILLJ1SC . On page 536 of the report it is stated,
'Thus viewed the provisions of the Act lead to the conclusion that its applicability to an individual dispute as opposed to dispute involving a group of workmen is excluded unless it acquires the general characteristics of an industrial dispute, viz., the workmen as a body or a considerable section of them make a common cause with the individual workman and thus create conditions contemplated by S. 3 of the U. P. Act which is the foundation of the State Government action under that Act.'
I may add here that the first paragraph of the report makes it clear that the expression 'industrial dispute' is defined in the U. P. Act in the same way as in S. 2 of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.
(9) The decision in Ex parte keable Press Ltd., 1943 2 All ER 633, which Mr. Mohan Kumaramangalam cited before me does not carry the matter very much farther forward because it is clear that the demand made on the management in that case was supported by the employees in general.
(10) Mr. Rajah Aiyar advanced certain arguments of a general character. He pointed out that the main purpose of the Act is to set up machinery for resolving not individual disputes but industrial disputes of a general character. By far the most important of these disputes are those that arise between managements on the one side and these employees on the other. The management of a concern is easily located since it is either a natural or a legal person; but, employees generally form an amorphous and often-times shifting mass of individuals. Now, asked Mr. Rajah Aiyar, unless the organisation which claims to speak and act on behalf of the mass of employees can properly show that it has authority to represent that mass--not necessarily the whole of that mass but at least the majority of the members constituting that mass--how can there be any adjudication or settlement of the questions or disputes that arise between the management and the mass of workers? Every settlement or adjudication implies the existence of a dispute between two parties. If the persons claiming to represent the workmen do not represent a majority of the workmen who would be the other party vis--vis the management? An establishment may employ several thousand workmen. Several of them may belong to no union at all and the rest of them may belong to various unions, each with its own views, policies and ideologies. In such a situation who has got a right to speak and act on behalf of the employees? If the Act is to be worked at all then we must insist that in respect of questions between a management and its employees, the employees must be represented by somebody who has got a right to speak on behalf of the majority of the employees of that establishment. In the present case the Madras Labour Union which has a membership of about 10,000 is not backing the cause of the Comptists and Machine operators. The only persons who back their claims are the Buckingham and Carnatic Mills Staff Union, and, it has a membership of only a little over 400. It is impossible to say that they constitute even a substantial part of the workers of the mills whose aggregate strength exceeds 14,000. The present, therefore, cannot be said to be an industrial dispute.
(11) This undoubtedly is one aspect of the matter, but, it is certainly not the whole matter. There may be establishments the employees in which belong to no union whatever. They may be content to tell those who invite them to form themselves into a Union, 'leave us alone; we want to pay no labour dues; we do not want labour leaders with rival policies coming in and disrupting our peace.' Now even between such employees on the one side and their employers on the other there may be disputes of a general character in which the employees as a whole are interested. Merely because they belong to no union and no regular organisation exists which can claim to speak on their behalf it will not be right to say that there is no industrial dispute provided of course that the employees as a body support the claim made against the management. I am mentioning this only to show that we cannot insist that disputes would be industrial disputes only if they are backed by unions.
(12) It must also be remembered that every individual has freedom of association and that all the employees are not bound to join the same union--or in fact any union. The employees of one establishment may belong to a number of unions and each one may have its own views, methods and leadership. The claims put forward by one Union may not necessarily be supported by the other Unions, and, where personal, factional, territorial, communal or other rivalries come in, one union as a matter of principle may oppose claims made by another union. In such cases to insist that the claim made on behalf of a section of workmen must be supported by a majority of the members employed in the establishment would be to make the Act unworkable or ineffective.
(13) Then again, organisation of workers on the basis of crafts is a well-recognised form of organisation. For example, engine drivers on railways may form a union; the fireman may form another union, and, employees in railway repair establishments may form a third union. Matters about which engine drivers for instance may feel aggrieved and about which they may want to raise an industrial dispute may be of no interest to the other sections, and, they may not care to back their demands. Still when engine drivers give notice of strike if certain things are not done we cannot say that there is no industrial dispute merely because engine drivers form only a small percentage of the total employees of a railway. In fact, it would be in their power to very forcibly remind the management and the public that there is an industrial dispute by going on strike and stopping all trains.
(14) One must also not forget that very often unions cut across the line of employers that is to say, one union may include the employees in a number of establishments.
(15) The Act contains no provisions for dealing with situations where there are a number of unions in the filed and each one claims to be exclusively entitled to speak and act on behalf of the employees in a particular establishment or industry. As the Act stands it will be impossible to insist that before a dispute between a management and its employees can be called an industrial dispute that dispute must have the backing of the majority of the employees under that management. The decisions do not go farther than saying that before a dispute can be called an industrial dispute it must have the backing of a substantial number of the employees. A substantial number need not be a majority. In the present case it will no doubt be difficult to say that the 434 persons who form the Buckingham and Carnatic Mills Staff Union form a substantial part of the employees in the mills since their number exceeds 14,000. But then the total strength of the clerical establishment of the mills is only about 700 and of these 434 belong to the Staff Union. 434 is a substantial part of 700. As I mentioned before, unions based on crafts, are a common feature of the modern industrial system, and, where a genuine union based on a craft exists and that union has a majority of the employees engaged on that craft and belonging to that establishment it will not ordinarily be proper to say that a dispute backed by such a union is not an industrial dispute.
(16) The view taken by the Tribunal appears to me to be correct. In the result, these petitions are dismissed with costs. Advocate's fee Rs. 200 one set.
(17) Petitions dismissed.