(1) The United Bleachers (Private) Ltd., is a limited liability company the shares in which are held by six mills in the town of Coimbatore and its neighbourhood. On 8th October 1957, the Company dismissed one Krishnan who was in its employ as a Supervisor-cum-clerk. An industrial dispute about this was raised and in the order made on 10th March 1958 in I. D. No. 1 of 1958, the Labour Court, Coimbatore, directed that he should be reinstated. The award of the Labour Court was published in April 1958. On 10th April 1958 the Company intimated that the award could not be implemented as the post had been abolished.
However, on 4th June 1958 in suppression of its previous letter the company asked Krishnan to report for work. Subsequently he was retrenched. On 22nd September 1958 a vacancy arose in the grade of supervisor-cum-clerk and in that vacancy the management appointed a man called Mohamed. On 23rd September 1958, Krishnan who was at the time the Secretary of the Coimbatore District Textile Workers Union Branch wrote to the management pointing out the existence of the vacancy and asking that he Krishnan, should be appointed in that vacancy. The company however refused to do so.
In protest against them the workers on the second shift which was due to commence at 5 p.m. on 23rd September 1958, started as stay in strike. The management of the company thereon put up a notice drawing the attention of the workers to the fact that their conduct involved a contravention of the Standing Orders of the company and that it was illegal. The notice concluded:
'Since we feel that you might be misled into such an act, we wish to make you realise your mistake and hereby inform you in your own interest, to resume your normal duties and avoid unnecessary damage of materials due to this sudden dislocation of work.'
The notice however had no effect. On 24th September 1958, the management of the company put up another notice pointing out that inspite of the notice that had been put up the previous day the workers had not resumed duty and that
'the Management will be forced to take extreme steps under the Standing Order No. 13, S. ii and iii if you do not resume work immediately.'
The strike however continued. On 25th September 1958 the management put up a notice dismissing with immediate effect all the workers. A dispute about this was raised and on 31st October 1958 the government referred the dispute for adjudication to the Labour Court, Coimbatore. In the award it made on 12th December 1958, the Labour Court held that the strike was illegal and that the order of dismissal was justified. Subsequently the management took back 127 of the employees whom it had dismissed, but who had expressed regret for their past conduct. The present petition has been filed by the workers employed in the United Bleachers (Private) Ltd., for the issue of an appropriate writ to quash the order of the Labour Court.
(2) It is not controverted that there was a strike in the United Bleachers (Private) Ltd., between 23rd and 25th of September. The first question that has to be decided is whether this strike was illegal or not.
Section 22 of the Industrial Disputes Act provides that,
'No person employed in a public utility service shall go on strike in breach of contract:
(a) without giving to the employer notice of strike, as hereinafter provided, within six weeks before striking; or (b) within fourteen days of giving such notice;'
It is not alleged in this case that any such notice was given. The argument however was that the work in which the United Bleachers (Private) Ltd., was engaged did not make it a public utility service.
(3) Section 2(n)(vi) provides that any industry enumerated in the first Schedule to the Act, which the appropriate Government notifies to be a public utility service shall be such for the purposes of the Act. In this schedule 'Cotton Textiles' figure as item 5. The contention of Mr. Pattabhiraman, the learned advocate for the petitioners, was that the United Bleachers (Private) Ltd., is engaged only in bleaching or dyeing cloth and that therefore it cannot be regarded as a cotton textile industry within the meaning of item 5 in the first schedule to the Act.
He referred to the etymology of the word 'textile' and contended that what may be called the textile process ends when the weaving is complete and that the subsequent processes would not be processes in the cotton textile industry. I find it difficult to agree. It is not in dispute that the process of converting yarn into cloth which has length and breadth is part of the textile process. What Mr. Pattabhiraman invites me to say is that the textile process stops there and does not go further than that. That view would, it seems to me be appropriate and applicable only to very primitive forms of the textile industry,
The public are not content with rough grey material which they can wrap round their waists. Sarees have to be gaily coloured. Dhoties have to be bleached. Shirtings and coatings have to be given various tints and hues. The material must be made unshrinkable and some people insist that they must be crease-proof. It seems to me that when we speak of the cotton textile industry in its present stage of development we must include all the processes upto the time when the final product is ready to go into the godowns of the mills on its journey to the consuming public.
The argument based on the etymology of the word 'textile' ignores all the developments that have taken place in the industry since the first loom was invented. In fact if we use the word in the very narrow sense for which Mr. Pattabhiraman contended it would be possible to say that even folding or rolling of the cloth that has been taken out of a loom would not be part of the textile process. As I said before it seems to me that the entire process from the receipt of the cotton or yarn to the final stage when it is ready to go on to the market should be included in what we call the textile process.
(4) Reference was made to the decision in Kanpur Textile Finishing Mills v. R.P.F. Commissioner, (S) the following passage appears:
'There is no expert evidence on the record but it was admitted at the Bar that there are factories where the whole process of converting cotton or other yarn into finished product of the finest quality and colour is gone through and it was not denied that that would still be textile. I cannot see any reason for holding that the word 'manufacture' would include only that process which would turn cotton into a woven cloth, however coarse it may be, or in whatever colour it may be, without undergoing the process of bleaching, dyeing or printing. The 'textile' would include very kind of cloth, whether made of cotton, wool, jute or silk, natural or artificial, which is a finished product in accordance with the needs of human beings who include all classes, those who want very fine cloth and those who are satisfied with comparatively coarser kind and who include men and women and the latter may require beautiful colours and beautiful prints.'
(5) In Central Provident Fund Commissioner v. Ganesh Dyeing and Printing Works, 1956 1 Lab LJ 743 (Bom), Sir Chagla C. J. observed:
'Bleaching, dyeing, finishing and processing are all clearly part of the textile industry. The textile industry, as it has developed in our country and in other parts of the world, is not confined or restricted merely to producing what is known as grey or coarse unbleached cloth. Perhaps the most important aspect of the textile industry is that side of it which concerns itself with bleaching, dyeing and finishing the raw produce which is turned out by the mills. That this is so can be clearly gathered from the fact that many textile mills obviously engaged in the textile industry, have as a part of their activities, and an important part of their activities, bleaching, dyeing and printing.'
(6) Mr. Pattabhiraman, however, explained that in the former case the learned Judges in an attempt to give effect to the broad purpose of the statute which is of a benevolent character were giving the word as wide an interpretation as possible and that when as here we are dealing with a situation to which penal consequences are attached such a construction should not be adopted. The argument that when penal consequences follow the statute must be strictly construed is correct. But then as I tried to explain above the expression cotton textile is in its normal and well-understood sense large enough to include the processes of bleaching and dyeing.
(7) In S. 93 of XLI Victoria, Chapter 16 the expression textile factory is defined as follows:
'The expression 'textile factory' in this Act means any premises wherein or within the close or curtilage of which steam, water, or other mechanical power is used to move or work any machinery employed in preparing, manufacturing, or finishing, or in any process incident to the manufacture of cotton, wool, hair, silk; flax, hemp, jute, tow, china grass, cocoanut fibre, or other like material, either separately or mixed together, or mixed with any other material, or any fabric made thereof; then follows the proviso: Provided that print works, bleaching and dyeing works, lace warehouses, paper mills, flax scutch mills, rope works, and hat works shall not be deemed to be textile factories.'
Mr. Thyagarajan contended that the very circumstance that it was considered necessary to insert such a proviso shows that but for it printing, bleaching and dyeing works would have been included in the scope of the definition of textile factory. It seems to me that there is considerable force in this argument.
(8) Apart from this statute and the two decisions first referred to and taking the expression cotton textile in its ordinary sense I would say that in the present stage of development of the industry we must include in the textile process bleaching, dyeing and other processes required to finish the product and make it marketable. The United Bleachers (Private) Ltd., was therefore a 'public utility service' within the meaning of the Industrial Disputes Act and as no notice was given as required by the Act the strike was clearly illegal.
(9) Mr. Pattabhiraman raised another point Standing Order 14 of the company provides:
'No order of dismissal or of suspension as a substantive punishment shall be valid unless the employee concerned--
(a) is informed in writing of the alleged misconduct;
(b) is given a reasonable opportunity to explain the circumstances alleged against him, and
(c) unless the enquiry is held by the Manager in conformity with the principles of natural justice, and the order of suspension or dismissal states in a brief and concise manner and the reasons therefor.
In awarding punishment under this standing order, the Manager shall take into account the gravity of the misconduct, the previous record, if any, of the employee and any other extenuating or aggravating circumstance that may exist.'
In the present case no charges were framed against any of the workers nor was anyone of them given a reasonable opportunity to explain the circumstances alleged against him. As there has thus been a contravention of this standing order the dismissal is bad and the order of the labour court should be set aside on that ground also. The reply on the other side was that even though no charges were framed as a matter of actual fact the workers knew what in charges were and if they desired to do so they could have given whatever explanation they wanted to and that therefore there has been no contravention of the principles of natural justice. Reference was made to the decision in Burn and Co. v. Their Employees, (S) : (1957)ILLJ226SC .
In that case one Banerjee was arrested by the police and kept in jail. The company terminated his services on 22nd April 1949. He claimed that he should be reemployed and reinstated. The Appellate Tribunal accepted the claim on the ground that he had been discharged without the company framing a charge or holding an enquiry that and the rules of natural justice had been violated. The Supreme Court observed:
'We are unable to agree with this decision. The ground of discharge is the continued absence of the employee, and his inability to do work, and it is difficult to see what purpose would be served by a formal charge being delivered to him and what conceivable answer he could give thereto. The order of the Appellate Tribunal is manifestly erroneous and must be set aside.'
In the present case certain facts stand out. On 23rd September 1958 the management of the company put up a notice drawing the attention of the workers to the fact that there was a stay in strike, that the situation was causing loss to the company and that the strike involved a contravention of the standing orders of the company. The company called upon the workers in their own interest to resume their normal duties and avoid unnecessary damage. That notice was ignored. Another notice was put up warning the workers that the management would be forced to take extreme steps if they did not resume work.
Even that notice was ignored. It seems to me perfectly clear that the workers knew what the case was which they had to meet and anyone of them if he had been so minded could have written to the management explaining his position. But no one did that. When the matter was before the Industrial Labour Court, the point was not raised that any worker had any special or personal reasons for being absent from work--and this is important. Nor was it alleged that any worker had been prejudiced by reason of the failure of the management to conform to the provisions of S. 14 of the Standing Orders.
Even in the affidavit filed in this court it is not stated that any particular worker had a separate case or separate excuse or that he desired to urge mitigating circumstances that would apply to him alone. That being so to set aside the order of the labour Court would be merely to initiate a round of entirely futile process. The management would serve a notice specifying that the worker in question had struck work illegally and calling upon him to submit his explanation.
As I explained so far no individual worker has put forward any personal or special reason or even suggested that he had one. Any new explanation coming so late and at this stage is bound to be rejected. I do not think it would be right to set aside the order of the Labour Court merely in order that a useless formality of this nature may be gone through. I would repeat that in the claim statement filed before the labour Court there was not even an allegation that the failure to follow the provisions of the standing orders had caused prejudice to any worker.
(10) In the result this writ petition is dismissed but there will be no order as to costs.
(11) Writ petition dismissed.