1. An important and interesting question of law arises in these writ petitions, namely, whether thereceipts passed by the erstwhile workmen to the management in fall settlement of all their claims at the time of the closure of the business would stop them from claiming the full statutory benefits conferred on them under the Industrial Disputes Act.
2. The petitioner in all these writ petitions is the management of Andhra Laundry. There was an industrial dispute between the management of the laundry and its workmen and the labour court, Madras, passed an award, by consent of parties, in Industrial Dispute No. 32 of 1962 relating to demands for revision of pay-scales, payment of dear-ness allowance and for the introduction of a gratuity scheme. The management carried out the obligations undertaken by it in that award. However, in July 1963, the management did not find it possible to continue the business and decided to close the laundry. That was mainly because the proprietor of the laundry was incapacitated to manage the business due to loss of vision of his eyes. Accordingly, the management issued a notice of closure dated 27 June 1963 informing the workmen that it had decided to close down the business in accordance with Section 25FFF of the Industrial Disputes Act with effect from 1 August 1963 and that the workers would be paid all their dues in accordance with law on and from 30 July 1963 during working hours. All the workmen received their wages, retrenchment compensation and gratuity from the management. All the workmen passed individual receipts for having received the sums mentioned therein from the management of Andhra Laundry towards retrenchment compensation, gratuity and arrears of wages, in full quit of all claims including reinstatement in view of the closing down of the laundry from 31 July 1963.
3. The very next day, the Tamilnadu Employees' Union sent a communication to the management informing it that the workmen had received their amounts under protest, that until they were paid their wages according to law they would offer satyagraha and do picketing in front of the shop of the laundry. There is no evidence that the union carried out the threat as mentioned in its communicating. But the erstwhile workmen filed claim petitions before the labour court. Madras, under Section 33C(8) of the Industrial Disputes Act, claiming computation of the benefits of retrenchment compensation, gratuity and leave wages under the Act after giving credit to the amount received from the management Just on the eve of closure of the business,
4. These petitions were resisted by the management that the workmen were paid closure compensation, gratuity and arrears of wages, that each of the workmen had passed a stamped receipt in fall and final settlement of all his claims, that even before the closure of the business a notice of closure was sent to them together with the details of rates of wages, compensation and gratuity due to them and that, having received the amounts in full settlement of their claime, they could not file any petition to claim the alleged balance of amount due to them and that It was no longer open to them to go behind the same and make furtherclaims on the management.
5. The labour court found that the workmen received the amounts under protest and passed an order for the amounts due to them after givingcredit to the amounts paid by the management before the closure of the business,
6. The management has filed the present writ petitions questioning the legality of the order passed by the labour court. The main, contention of the management is that the whole matter was summarily disposed of by the presiding officer, additional labour court, that It has not dealt with the legal significance of the receipt passed by each of the workmen in full sattlement of his claim and that therefore the order passed by the labour court suffers from an apparent error.
7. The point for consideration, therefore, is whether the workmen are entitled to claim the statutory benefits under the Industrial Disputes Act, when they have once received amounts and passed receipts in full and final settlement of theirclaims with full knowledge of rights.
8. The respondent-workmen admit that they have passed receipts in fall settlement of their claims. But now they contend that they received the amounts under protest. It iscommon case that the management, nearly a month before the closure of the business, issued notice of closure to each of the workmen together with a statement of wages, compensation and gratuity he would be entitled to. The workmen did not protest to the management about the correctness of the amount shown in the statement. Nor did the union give any notice to the management questioning the propriety and legality of the amounts arrived at in the statement. The union gave notice to the management only after the erstwhile workmen received the amounts due to them and passed the receipts aforesaid. A copy of the notice of closure was also sent to the union. If really the union was Interested in its members, it could have protest ad about the correctness of the figures mentioned in the statements sent to the workmen together with a copy of the notice. Having allowed the members to receive the payments and pass the receipts in full settlement of their claims, it does not appear to be fair on the part of the union to question the propriety of the payment of closure compensation by the management. in their petitions filed under Section 330(2) of the Act, the workmen did not allege any coercion, or undueinfluence or practice of fraud on them by the management. Farther, the workmen did not plead in their petitions that they received the amounts from the management under protest. It is also common knowledge that the amounts were disbursed in the presence of a third party, R.W. 1, the proprietor of Vinayakar Medical Hall, situate very near the Andhra Laundry. He has stated in his evidence that he attested Ex. R. 1 and the stamped receipts acknowledging thereceipt of payment in full settlement of the claims. He has stated in his evidence that he was sent for by the proprietor, that he translated the contents of the receipts as per the request of the workers and that moneys were not received under protest. The presiding officer of the labour court has not believed the evidence of B.W. 1. He has stated
disbelieving the evidence of B.W. 1 and believing the evidence of the petitioner (workman), I find that the petitioner had not received on 1 August 1933 the amount from the management in full and final settlement of his claim and that he had received it only under protest.
The presiding officer of the labour court has not assigned any reasons for disbelieving the evidence of R.W. 1. in R. v. Agricultural Land Tribunal (1960) 2 A.E.R. 518, the Queen's Bench Division has observed:
There is a clear distinction between a tribunal that Acts without jurisdiction and one which goes wrong in law while acting within its Jurisdiction, e.g. in acting on no evidence or in acting on evidence which ought to have been rejected or in falling to take into consideration evidence which ought to have been considered.
In State of Oriasa v. Murlidnar A.I.R. 1983 S.C. 404 their lordships of the Supreme Court have held that it in open to the High Court tofind out whether there in evidence or not to justify the conclusion. Their lordships of the Supreme Court have held in Union of India v. H. C. Gael 1984 I L.L. J. 38 that the High Court cannot consider the question about the sufficiency or adequacy of evidence in support of a particularconclusion, that it in a matter which is within the competence of the authority which deals with the question but the High Court can and must enquire whether there is any evidence at all insupports of the conclusion.
9. Even assuming that the labour court has disbelieved the evidence of R.W. 1 for valid reasons, still we have to consider the effect in law of passing receipts in fall and final settlement of their claims by the workmen. 'In fall and final settlement.' means termination of a disputed matter by adoption of terms agreeable between the parties the parties may express their consent to receive the agreed amount. Even assuming that a person is entitled to a much more amount under the Act still can give his approval to take alesser amount, The point for consideration is whether he can question that what he received is not in accordance with the law. Learned Counsel for the management contends that parties can always contract themselves out of the statute or can contract themselves out of the rights given to them by the statute, and that, once they waive the benefits conferred on them, they are estopped by their conduct from settling up a defence. Where a statute prescribes that a contract shall be in a particular form, or shall or shall not contain certain terms, the statutory form must be followed. But in the absence of express prohibition to the contrary, the statutory terms may be waived by the parties to the contract. But the conditions in the statute may be imposed in such terms that waiver is impassible. In the instant case, under the Industrial Disputes Act, the question for consideration is whether the parties are prevented or prohibited from entering into a contract contrary to the statute. in Melliss v. Shirley Local Board (1885) 16 Q.B.D. 446, Bowen, L.J., said:
We have to find out upon the construction of the Act whether it was intended by the legislature to prohibit the doing of a obtain Act altogether, or whether it was only Intended to say that, If the act was done, certain penalties should follow as a consequence. If you can find out that the Act is prohibited, then the principle is that no man can recover in an action founded on that which is a breach of the provisions of the statute.
Now the relevant provision in the Industrial Disputes Act is Section 25FFF and it provides that where an undertaking is dosed down for any reason whatsoever every workman who has been in continuous service for not less than one year in that undertaking immediately before such, closure shall be entitled to notice and compensation in accordance with the provisions of Section 25F, as if the workman had been retrenched. Whileconstruing that section, their lordships of the Supreme Court in Hathising Manufacturing Co. v. Union of India 1960 II LL.J.J. have observed that it is not a condition precedent to pay closure compensation or give notice before the closure of the business, though no doubt, if the procedure is not followed, certainly an industrial dispute can be raised to claim closure compensation under Section 25FFF and that on other hand payment of retrenchment compensation and serving of notice or payment ofwages in lieu of notice are conditions precedent to retrenchment of workmen under Section 25F. In B.N. Elias & Co. v. Fifth Industrial Tribunal : (1965)IILLJ324Cal , certain workmen were retrenched. They were not paid retrenchment compensation immediately but it was paid after one month of the retrenchment.
10. The concerned workmen received the compensation in final settlement in view of the fact that the retrenchment was effected without complying with the statutory provisions contained in Section 25F of the Act, the tribunal directed payment of one month's wages by way of compensation. When it was urged that the concerned workmen were estopped from demanding any farther payment since they were paid in final settlement. It was held by the Calcutta High Court that the concerned workmen were not estopped from receiving such payments even though they had received the amounts in fall settlement and that there could not be any estoppel against a statute.
11. There seems to be a difference in the wording of the sections between retrenchment continuation and closure compensation, In the case of retrenchment, the parties cannot waive payment, of compensation or notice ; but it appears that the parties can, in the case of closure compensation, contract themselves out of theattitude. This can be seen by looking into the provisions of some aualogous statutes, where specific provision has been made that the parties cannot contract themselves out of the statute. For instance, in the Minimum Wages Act, Section 25 provides that any contract or agreement relinquishing or reducing the employee's right to a minimum rate of wages is null and void. Similarly Section 23 of the Payment of Wages Act provides that any contract or agreement whereby an employed person relinquishes any right conferred by that Act is null and void in so far as it purports to deprive him of such right. Section 17 of the Workmen's Compensation Act provides that any contract or agreement entered into by a workman with his employer relinquishing any right of compensation from the employer for personal injury arising out of or in the course of employment is null and void in so far as it purports to remove or reduce the liability of any person to pay compensation under the Act. Again, in the Payment of Bonue Act, Section 10A says that every employer shall be bound to pay to every employee in an accounting year the minimum bonus whether there are profits in the account year or not. But in the industrial Disputes Act, as far as closure compensation is concerned, there appears to be no provision preventing the parties from contracting out of the statute.
12. The passing of receipts by the erstwhile employees in full and final settlement of their claims amounts in law to an Act of waiver, estoppel, or election, I do not think that the Act of the workmen in this case will amount to election, since election always contemplates the existence of two remedies. But it may amount to waiver or estoppel. It may be waiver, because it is an intentional Act with the fall knowledge thereof. It is a distinct Act done by the workmen. The signing of the stamped receipts in fall and final settlement of their claims is an intentional Act, the intention being to treat the matter as if the condition did not exist or as if the breach of condition had not occurred. The workmen signed the stamped receipts with fall knowledge of their claims. The conduct of the workman in refuting their own receipts is an Act of approbation and reprobation. The conduct of the workmen may also amount to estoppel; for, they were aware of their rights under the Act and they had sufficient time either to reject the terms offered by the management and insist upon the statutory benefits under the Act or accept the terms offered by the management. When once the workmen passed receipts acknowledging the payment in fall settlement of theirclaims, they are stopped from patting forth a claim for the statutory benefits. I am dearly of the view that it is a case where the workman, by receiving the payments and passing the stampad receipts in fall and final settlement of all their claims have deliberately contracted themselves out of the statute. They have thereby waived their right to claim the statutory benefits under the Act. They are, therefore, estopped in law from claiming the benefits under the statute at this stage.
13. For the reasons mentioned in the foregoing paragraphs, the writ petitions are allowed and the order of the presiding officer, additional labour court, Madras, is quashed. There will be no order as tocosts.