S. Mohan, J.
1. This writ of certiorari is to call for the records in I.D. No. 90 of 1974, dated 24th February, 1975 and quash the same.
2. The National Textile Employees' Union, Coimbatore, is the petitioner. In the affidavit in support of the petition, it is stated as follows:
3. A settlement, dated 10th of September, 1973 was reached under Section 12(3) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, (hereinafter referred to as the Act) binding all workmen of the second respondent Mills, on issues relating to permanency of Badli Workers and their lay off. The petitioner Union and respondents 3 to 6, Unions, were parties to the settlement. Clause 14 of that Settlement, which gave rise to the present dispute is as follows:
It is agreed to fill up the present vacancies, 28 badlies (selected on seniority) out of the complement of 32 and over and above this, 22 badlies in spinning shall be made permanent. The remaining badlies numbering 32 shall be made permanent on 1st April, 1974. The badlies in spinning now made permanent shall be laid off when they are found surplus. The badli strength (10%) on the required complement of permanent workers shall be filled up on 1st April, 1974 and shall be decided on the basis of seniority.
4. In the discussion, preceding the settlement, the Management agreed to absorb only 28 badli workers as permanent workers, having regard to their employment strength. But, at the request of the Union, it was further agreed to make 2a more badlies permanent and the balance of 32, permanent by 1st April, 1974, thus making a grand total of 82 badlies. Under Clause 14, the question arose as to how many workers were to be laid off. This dispute was referred to the Labour Court (first respondent) by the Government of Tamil Nadu, in G.O. Rt. No. 1894, Department of Labour, Employment and Housing, dated 3rd October, 1974. The same was taken as I.D. No. 90 of 1974 and the impugned order was passed.
5. The award of the Labour Court is vitiated for the following reasons:
(1) The only issue before the Labour Court was whether the 22 badli workers made permanent, should be laid off first, or, all the 82 badlies should be laid off, in the event of a lay off. But, it went far beyond the terms of reference by holding that all the permanent workers of the Mills should also be laid off rotationally along with the 82 badlies, now made permanent.
(2) The Labour Court ought to have held that the 22 badlies, now made permanent, should be laid off first, and later, the balance of 32 badlies, in the event of a lay off.
(3) The interpretation placed by the Labour Court on Clause 14 is wrong.
6. A counter-affidavit has been filed denying the various allegations made in the affidavit and contending that it is incorrect to state the Labour Court has gone beyond the scope of reference and all that it has done is incidental to the main issue for reference, which the Labour Court is entitled to, in order to prevent industrial unrest, which is the duty of the Labour Court, and no exception could be taken to the impugned order, which is perfectly valid in law.
7. Mr. Govindarajan, learned Counsel for the Writ Petitioner, submits before me that in so far as the Labour Court has held that all the 82 badlies, made permanent, should be laid off in rotation with the other workers of the Mills, who were permanent even before 10th September, 1973 it has gone beyond the scope of the reference, since the only question before the Labour Court was whether only the 22 badlies were to be laid off first or all the 82 badlies, now made permanent should be laid off. Therefore, according to him, that part of the order is bad in law.
8. In support of his submission, the learned Counsel relies on the rulings in Ramamoorthy v. Secretary, Tirunelveli Dt. M.P.W. Union : (1964)1MLJ80 , and Delhi Cloth and General Mills v. Its Workmen : (1967)ILLJ423SC .
9. In meeting these submissions, Mr. Narayanan, learned Counsel appearing for the contesting Union, would submit that what has now been decided by the Labour Court is fully within the scope of the reference and merely because the manner m which the 82 badlies are to be laid off has been laid down, it does not mean that the Labour Court has acted beyond the scope of its reference. If it were not so decided, there will be two categories of workers and lay offs, which will definitely cause industrial unrest. In order to prevent the same, it is the duty of the Labour Court to find out the true scope of the reference and decide the same, and that is what has been done in the instant case. According to him, the rulings in Express Newspapers v. Their Workers and Staff : (1962)IILLJ227SC , Minimax v. Its Workmen : (1968)ILLJ369Pat and Workmen, Mysore Paper Mills v. Mysore Paper Mills (1970) 2 L.I.C. 1113, do support this contention. In addition to the above, he relies an the decision in Delhi Cloth and General Mills v. Its Workmen : (1967)ILLJ423SC , the very ruling cited by the writ petitioner.
10. The entire controversy is about the scope of the reference made in G.O. Rt. No. 1894, Department of Labour, Employment and Housing, dated 3rd October, 1974 and it is extracted for a proper appreciation of the case.
Whether item 14 of the terms of settlement, dated the 10th September, 1973 under Sub-section (3) of Section 12 of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, Central Act XIV of 1947 is to be construed to mean that the 22 badlies from spinning department made permanent thereunder should alone be laid off when found surplus or the 82 badlies made permanent as per that term should be laid off when found surplus.
According to the writ petitioner, preceding the settlement, dated 10th September, 1973, reached under Section 12(3) of the Act there were talks on which Clause 14, came to be entered into. On an analysis of that clause, the following emerge:
(i) 'To fill up the present vacancies, 28 badlies out of the 32, shall be absorbed and over and above this, 22 badlies shall be made permanent. (ii) The remaining 32 badlies shall be made permanent on 1st April, 1974.' Upto this, there is no controversy. The real controversy is concerning the lay off. As regards that, it says that the badlies in Spinning department, row made permanent, shall be laid off when they are found surplus. It is not correct on the part of the writ petitioner to contend that only the 22 badlies have to be laid off, since all the 82 workmen were made permanent on 1st April, 1974. The result of making them permanent is that they will have to be treated on the same footing with the other permanent workmen. When it comes to the question of lay off, certainly, all the workmen, being of the same category, will have to be laid off in rotation, and that is what the Labour Court has done. I am unable to agree with the submission of the learned Counsel for the writ petitioner, that in doing so, the Labour Court has gone beyond the scope of the reference.
11. In Ramamoorthy v. Secretary, Tirunelveli Dt. N.P.W. Union : (1964)1MLJ80 , the first issue covered by the reference was 'whether the non-employment of the 34 workmen, consequent on the dissolution of the partnership firm, was justified; if not, to what relief they are entitled' and the second issue related to the computation of the relief, which was consequential upon the first issue. The learned Judge, in construing this reference held that it did not appear to include the question as to what was the effect of the dissolution of the partnership and the division of the estate on the labour force attached to the estate. On that basis, the order of the Tribunal on these two issues was quashed, since the Tribunal had assumed that the 34 workmen were not employed consequent on the dissolution of the partnership. This case certainly cannot be of any assistance to the writ petitioner.
12. In Delhi Cloth and General Mills v. Its Workman : (1967)ILLJ423SC , where the terms of reference were about the legality and justification of strike and lock out in a particular mill on a particular date, it was held that the Tribunal must confine its decision only to the question whether strike and lock out were legal and justified or not, and it could not enlarge the scope of its jurisdiction and decide that there was no strike or lock out at all. At page 475, it was held:
In our opinion, the Tribunal must, in any event, look to the pleadings of the parties to find out the exact nature of the dispute, because in most cases the order of reference is so cryptic that it is impossible to cull out therefrom the various points about which the parties were at variance leading to the trouble.
In the instant case, it has to be noted that the contesting third respondent (The National Textile Workers Union) was all the while demanding rotation of the 82 workers along with the permanent workers in case of lay off and on that issue, there was a strike in the Mills from 10th June, 1974. Therefore, as the Supreme Court pointed out, it became necessary for the Labour Court to find out the exact nature of the dispute, notwithstanding the somewhat ambiguous wording of the reference.
13. The law relating to this aspect of the matter has been succinctly laid down in Express Newspapers v. Their Workers and Staff : (1962)IILLJ227SC :
An order of reference hastily drawn or drawn in a casual manner often gives rise to unnecessary disputes and thereby prolongs the life of industrial adjudication which must always be avoided. Even so, when the question of this kind is raised before the Courts, the Courts must attempt to construe the reference not too technically or in a pedantic manner, but fairly and reasonably.
14. In the impugned order, this is precisely what the Labour Court has done and this ruling is of great assistance to the respondents.
15. To the same effect is the decision in Minimax v. Its Workers I.L.R. (1968) 369, wherein it was held that a duty was cast on the Tribunal to find out the real dispute referred to and decide it and not to throw it out on mere technicality. It was further held that there was no substance in the submission that the Tribunal has no power to construe the referrence and to look into the pleadings of parties for the purpose.
16. The learned Counsel for the contesting respondent is correct in his submission that if the lay off is to be confined to these 22 workers alone, there will be two Categories of workmen, which will bring about discrimination among the same category of workmen, all of whom had attained the stature of permanency. This apart, if the interpretation placed by the writ petitioner is to be accepted, the lay off will have to be confined only to the 22 workers, who would be subjected to lay off in quicker rotation, While the other permanent workers would not be subject to lay off at all. On the contrary, if these 82 workers are to be laid off in rotation along with the other permanent workers the lay off will be confined to a shorter period, which undoubtedly will avoid industrial unrest.
17. The essential policy underlying the Act is to maintain industrial harmony and avoid disputes and it was, therefore, necessary, for the Labour Court to decide the manner in which the 82 workmen had to be laid off, by saying that they had to be laid off along with the other permanent workmen. In so doing, it has not tread beyond the scope of its reference, but it has decided only the real dispute between the parties. Thus, I am unable to see any error whatsoever, in the impugned order.
18. The writ petition fails and it is accordingly dismissed. However, I make no orders as to costs. It will be open to the management to implement the award, now that the order of the Labour Court has been upheld.