(1) These two appeals are from the judgment of Balakrishna Aiyar J. in disposing of two writ petitions, namely, W. P. Nos. 54 and 55 of 1959.* They both relate to an order of the Industrial Tribunal, Madras, dated 31-1-1959 in Industrial Dispute No. 69 of 1958 on the file of the Tribunal. The management of the Buckingham and Carnatic Co., Ltd., filed both the petitions, In W. P. o. 54 of 1959 they prayed for the issue of a writ of certiorari to quash the said order of the Industrial Tribunal, while in W P. No. 55 of 1959 they prayed for a writ of prohibition directing the Industrial Tribunal to forbear from proceeding with the hearing in I. D. No. 69 of 1958 in pursuance of the said order. Both the petitions were dismissed by the learned Judge and these appeals are by the Buckingham and Carnatic Mills Co., Ltd.
(2) A question of far-reaching importance arises in these appeals on which there appears to be no direct authority. The question is this: If in an industrial establishment which employs several workmen who fall into more or less well-defined sections having regard to the nature of the work in which they are employed a dispute is raised by a few of the workmen in one of such sections and that dispute is taken up by a substantial number of persons employed in that section, whether organised as a union or not, can it be said that there is an industrial dispute within the meaning of that term as defined in the Industrial Disputes Act, or is it only when a majority or a substantial number of workmen employed in all the sections of the establishment take up that dispute or espouse their cause that an industrial dispute can be said to arise.
The question is likely to arise in large establishments like the appellants in which thousands of workmen are employed. So far as we are aware there is no provision of law which prohibits the existence of more than one union or association of employees in a particular industrial establishment. There is nothing to prohibit each section of the establishment having a union the membership of which is confined to the employees in that section. Even if all the employees in an establishment are employed in the same kind of work, there may be two different unions with separate membership. There may also be several industrial establishments the employees in which are not members of any union at all. In this country as yet there is no organised system of recognised collective bargaining units in respect of each industrial establishment or sections thereof.
(3) On 1-2-1958, the Government of Madras made an order in exercise of the powers conferred by S. 10(1)(d) of the Industrial Disputes Act 1947, referring for adjudication to the Industrial Tribunal. Madras, a dispute between the workmen and the management of the Buckingham and Carnatic Mills which had been raised by the Buckingham and Carnatic Mills Staff Union, namely, "Fixation of scales of pay for comptists and Machine operators." By a subsequent order made on 4-2-1959, the Government amended the reference by describing the dispute thus:
"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."
It may be mentioned, however, that this amendment was made after the order of the Industrial Tribunal which is the subject matter of the writ petitions. Two main preliminary objections were taken by the management, namely,
1. That there was no industrial dispute within the meaning of the Act because the dispute had not been taken up by a trade union of which the workmen to whom the dispute relates are members and there was no concerted demand for redress by the majority of workmen in the undertaking.
2. The award made by the Industrial Tribunal on 19-1-1957 was binding on all the workmen of the establishment including the comptists and machine operators, as the award remains in force for a period of 3 years from the date of the award and during that period no industrial dispute could be raised with regard to the scales of pay of any of the workmen. Both the preliminary objections were overruled by the Industrial Tribunal by his order dated 31-1-1959. Balakrishna Aiyar, J. confirmed that order. Hence these appeals.
(4) Mr. Rajah Aiyar, learned counsel for the management of the establishment, practically confined his argument to the first of the objections. To deal with this contention it is necessary to state a few facts. The comptists and machine operators belong to the clerical staff of the establishment. They operate machines which are used for the purpose of quick and ready reckoning and preparation of statistics. The total number of workmen employed in the establishment is about 14,700. It is stated that about 10,000 of these workmen are members of the Madras Labour Union.
Some of them are members of the clerical staff. Of the 700 employees in the clerical section of the establishment 434 of them are members of the Buckingham and Carnatic Mills Staff Union. It is this union which has espoused the case of the comptists and machine operators who are 47 in number. The question is whether the dispute raised by these 47 employees which has been espoused by the Buckingham and Carnatic Mills Staff Union which has a membership of 434 out of 700 of the clerical staff is an industrial dispute.
"Industrial dispute" is defined thus in S. 2(k),
" 'Industrial dispute' means any dispute or difference between employers and employers, or between employers and workmen, or between workmen and workmen, which is connected with the employment or non-employment or the terms of employment or with the conditions of labour, of any person."
Though the definition is in very wide terms and may include a dispute between the management of an industrial establishment and three of four workmen employed in it, it is now well established that a mere individual dispute will not fall within the scope of the definition and that what is contemplated is a collective dispute.
(5) In an early case in this Court. Kandan Textiles v. Industrial Tribunal, , which was decided by a Division Bench of which one of us was a party, it was definitely held that there could be no collective dispute unless 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. It was also pointed out that it was not necessary that before the Government could make a valid order referring a dispute to the Tribunal the majority of the workmen should be ranged as one of the parties. A collective dispute is thus described:
"A dispute between the employer on the one hand and the entire establishment or 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."
In Manager, United Commercial Bank Ltd. v. Commissioner of Labour, Madras, , Viswanatha Sastri J. agreed with this view of an industrial dispute and said:
"The distinction between an individual dispute and an industrial dispute is, if I may respectfully say so, well brought out in the judgment of my Lord in , citing inter alia a
passage from the judgment of Isaacs J. in George Hudson Ltd. v. Australian Timber Works Union, (1922-23) 32 CLR 413-441,...... if the resuming workman 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."
In Sri Ram Vilas Service Ltd. v. State of Madras, (S) AIR 1956 Mad 115, this view was again followed by Rajagopalan J. A different view was however taken, though not by this court. The point was considered in detail by Venkatarama Aiyar J. in C. P. Transport Service Ltd., Nagpur v. Raghunatha Gopal, (S) . His Lordship referred to the three different views taken by the High Courts and Industrial Tribunals in the country, namely, (1) a dispute which concerns only the rights of individual workers cannot be held to be an industrial dispute, (2) a dispute between an employer and a single employee can be an industrial dispute and (3) a dispute between an employer and a single employee cannot per se be an industrial dispute but it may become one if it is taken by the Union or a number of workmen. Venkatarama Aiyar J. was of the opinion that there was considerable reason behind the third of the views and the preponderance of judicial opinion was clearly in favour of it. He observed:
"Notwithstanding that the language of S. 2(k) is wide enough to cover a dispute between an employer and a single employee, the scheme of the Industrial Disputes Act does appear to contemplate that the machinery provided therein should be set in motion, to settle only disputes which involve the rights of workmen as a class and that a dispute touching the individual rights of a workman was not intended to be the subject of an adjudication under the Act, when the same had not been taken up by the Union or a number of workmen."
(6) In another case, namely, Newspapers Ltd. v. State Industrial Tribunal, U. P., (S) , the Supreme Court expressly approved the view taken by this court in and other cases following it.
(7) Mr. Rajah Aiyar strongly relied on observations in a Patna case New India Assurance Co. Ltd. v. Central Govt. Industrial Tribunal, Dhanbad, . In that case it was found that the cause of the dismissed employee had not been taken up by the association of the employees and it was held that therefore there was no industrial dispute which could be referred by the Government. So far this case falls in line with the other cases of this court to which we have referred. Mr. Rajah Aiyar relied upon the following observations of Ramaswami J. as he then was:
"In the context of these important provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act, it is clear that the 'industrial dispute' referred to and defined in S. 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."
No doubt the expression used by the learned Judge is "majority of the workmen in the establishment". But it is obvious the learned Judge did not mean that there should be an arithmetical majority as in an election, or that a vote should be taken of all the workmen in the establishment for the purpose. This is clear from the fact that the learned Judge cites the decision of this court in AIR 1952 Mad 616 as supporting his view. Mr. Rajah Aiyar contended that this statement of the law was approved by the Supreme Court in (S) . We agree with him that the decision was approved by the Supreme Court but we cannot agree with him that the particular observations relied on by him were expressly or impliedly approved. The case is referred to only in the following passage in the judgment of the Supreme Court:
"Another case in which this view was held is .
There the Government referred the question of dismissal of an employee of an Assurance Co. and it was to proved that this case was taken up by the employees association. The same view was adopted in Standard Vacuum Oil Co., Ernakulam v. Industrial Tribunal, Ernakulam, ILR 1952 Trav-Co. 432: (AIR 1952 Trav-Co. 249)."
What "this view" is can be understood by reference to an earlier passage in the judgment where the three views discussed in (S) are set out. "This view" is that a dispute between an employer and a single workman may become an industrial dispute if it is taken up by a trade union or a number of workmen. The Supreme Court has in no decision held that there cannot be an industrial dispute unless the cause of an aggrieved workman or a group of workmen is taken up by the majority of the workmen employed in the establishment.
(8) Mr. Rajah Aiyar was unable to cite any decision in which it has been expressly held that to decide whether there is an industrial dispute or not within the meaning of the definition the establishment should be taken as one unit though there may be several well-defined sections of workmen employed in the establishment, and that in ascertaining whether the cause of a particular aggrieved workmen has been taken up by a union or a substantial number of workmen only one union should be taken into account and the total number of workmen employed in all the sections should be taken as a single individual unit. If that position is applied to the industrial establishment in question, it would mean that there can be no industrial dispute unless the cause of a particular workman or a number of workmen is taken up by a substantial number of the entire body of workmen employed in the establishment.
There is a union called the Madras Labour Union in which a large number of employees of the establishment are members. According to Mr. Rajah Iyer, this is the only union which could take up the cause of any workmen in the establishment. In the first place there is no provision of which we are aware which precludes there being more than one union f workmen employed in an establishment. There is nothing to prevent each section of workmen having a union of association of their own, to safeguard the interests of the workmen employed in that section. Section 2(s) of the Industrial Disputes Act contemplates workmen being employed to do manual, supervisory, technical or clerical work. The interests and grievances of persons employed to do clerical work may not concern workmen employed in the technical work in the establishment.
There may be peculiar demands from workmen employed in the different sections of an establishment. Suppose there is a large industrial establishment carrying on the business of mining, there may be a large clerical section employed in the office of the establishment in a city, whereas there may be hundreds of workmen employed at the mines which may be even several miles away from the office of the establishment. It seems most unreasonable to say that the grievances of persons employed in the mining section cannot give rise to an industrial dispute unless the majority of the employees in all the sections of the establishment takes up their grievance.
Mr. Rajah Aiyar referred to certain provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act as impliedly supporting his view that the establishment must be considered as a single unit. On the other hand a reference to several provisions rather suggests that the Act does contemplate there being several sections in an industrial establishment. Section 2(n) defines public utility service as including "any section of an industrial establishment on the working of which the safety of the establishment of the workmen employed therein depends".
Section 18(d) declares inter alia that a settlement arrived at in the course of conciliation proceedings under the Act or an award of a Labour Court, Tribunal or National Tribunal which has become enforceable shall be binding on all parties to the industrial dispute, and where a party referred to 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 the establishment or part.
(9) A reference to the Madras Industrial Disputes Rules 1958 made by the Government in exercise of the powers conferred by S. 38 of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 is very instructive, Rule 4 lays down that the employer shall fix the number of members constituting the works committee so as to afford representation t the various categories, groups or classes of workmen engaged in, and to the sections, shops or departments of, the establishment. In the election of representatives of the workmen it is contemplated that there may be division of workmen into different electoral constituencies so as to afford representation to various categories, groups and classes of workmen. Rule 7 enjoins on the employer the duty to consult the registered trade union or unions, if any, in which the workmen of the establishment are members.
(10) We are in entire agreement with the reasoning and conclusion of Balakrishna Aiyar J. namely that as the Act stands, it is impossible to insist that before a dispute between a management and employees can be called an industrial dispute, that dispute must have the backing of the majority of the total number of employees under that management.
(11) Mr. Rajah Aiyar did not seriously press on us the second objection, namely, the existence of the prior award of Sri Ramaswami Gounder. The Industrial Tribunal has expressly held that the award would be binding so far as the scales of pay are concerned and all that he proposed to do on the reference was to fix the aggrieved employees in the proper grades.
(12) The appeals fail and are dismissed with costs in one appeal. Advocate's fee Rs. 200.
(13) Appeal dismissed.