G. Ramanujam, J.
1. This appeal is directed against the decision dated 17th July, 1980 of Mohan, J., in Writ Petition No. 5916 of 1979. The appellant herein was employed as a clerk by the respondent-Management with effect from 1st August, 1973. He successfully completed the prescribed period of probation of six months and he was confirmed in that post with effect from 1st January, 1974. Some of the employees' of the respondent-Management were members of the All India Indian Potash Employees Union. They had made several demands such as revision of scales of pay, existing daily batta, supply of uniforms, comprehensive insurance, etc., on the Management which the Management was not in a position to comply with. Eventually, the Government of Tamil Nadu by G.O. Ms. No. 702, Labour and Employment, dated 10th March, 1978 had referred the said dispute under Section 10(1)(d) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 (hereinafter referred to as the Act) to the Industrial Tribunal, Madras, and the same had been taken on file by the Tribunal on 10th July, 1978 as I. D. No. 46 of 1978.
2. While that dispute was pending, on 1st June, 1979, the Management passed orders transferring the appellant from Madras to Ahmedabad. The petitioner by letter dated 8th June, 1971 requested the Management to rescind the said transfer order. The Management having declined to rescind the transfer order, he filed a complaint (Complaint No. 5 of 1979) before the Tribunal under Section 33-A of the Act complaining that the Management has been guilty of contravention of the provisions of Section 33 of the Act inasmuch as the Management has not obtained the prior approval of the Tribunal as he is a protected workman and that in any event the order of transfer amounted to a change in the conditions of service which is prohibited by Section 33 (2) of the Act.
3. The said complaint was resisted by the Management contending that there was no contravention of the provisions of Section 33 of the Act and that an order of transfer will not amount to a change in the conditions of service and as such there is no necessity to obtain the prior sanction or approval. The Management also denied that the appellant it a 'protected workman' or that the transfer order is a mala fide action taken to victimise him for his union activities. In view of the said rival contentions, the Tribunal set down the following two issues in Complaint No 5 of 1979:
(1) Whether the conditions of service applicable to petitioner have been altered pending Industrial Dispute No. 46 of 1978, on the file of the Tribunal? (2) Whether the petitioner is a 'protected workman' as contemplated under Section 33 (3) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.
4. On the first issue, though the Tribunal prima facie agreed with the Management that the transfer of the petitioner from Madras to Ahmedabad would not amount to an alteration of conditions of service applicable to him, proceeded to hold that as the order of transfer has been made by the Management without taking into account the hardship that may be caused to him by such transfer, the service conditions applicable to the appellant should be deemed to have been altered to his prejudice, and therefore, the action taken by the Management will come either under Section 33 (2) (a) or under Section 33 (3) (a) of the Industrial Disputes Act. On the second issue, the Tribunal held that the petitioner was a 'protected workman' coming within the meaning of Explanation to Section 33 (3) of the Industrial Disputes Act.
5. In view of the findings rendered by the Tribunal on the above two issues, it found that the order of transfer is not bona fide but an act of victimisation of the appellant for his trade union activities, and therefore, there is contravention of the provisions of Section 33. In this view, the Tribunal passed an Award, dated 5th October, 1979, holding that the transfer of the petitioner from Madras to Ahmedabad is unjustified.
6. Aggrieved by the Award passed by the Industrial Tribunal, the Management filed Writ Petition No. 5916 of 1979 contending that the complaint filed by the appellant herein before the Tribunal was not maintainable and that even on merits the Award of the Tribunal is not legally tenable. The said writ petition was resisted by the appellant herein contending that his complaint against the order of transfer is maintainable and that there is clear contravention of Section 33 of the Act.
7. Mohan, J., by his judgment, dated 17th July, 1980 held that as there are no alterations in the conditions of service to the prejudice of the petitioner and as the order of transfer is not punitive in character, there was no contravention of Section 33 of the Act and that only if the complaint is maintainable under Section 33-A, the question of bona fides can be gone into. In that view, the learned Judge, without going into the question as to whether the order of transfer is mala fide or punitive in character or whether the appellant is a 'protected workman' or not, set aside the Award of the Tribunal. It is to question the said decision of Mohan, J., the present writ appeal has been filed by the appellant.
8. According to the appellant, he is a 'protected workman' and that before the Management transferred him from Madras to Ahmedabad which is an order to his prejudice, it should have obtained the prior sanction of the Tribunal as required by Section 33 (3) (a) of the Act, and as it was not done there is a contravention of Section 33 (3) (a) and that even if the appellant is not a 'protected workman' as contended by the Management, the order of transfer which is a mala fide action taken by the Management to victimise the appellant for his union activities, should be taken to be an order passed in contravention of Section 33 (2) of the Act.
9. The learned Counsel for the respondent, on the other hand, contends that the appellant is not a 'protected workman', and therefore, Section 33 (2) (a) has no application and that the order of transfer having been passed in accordance with the conditions of service there is no violation of Section 33 (2) as well and that the question whether the action of transfer is mala fide or punitive will arise only if the appellant's complaint is maintainable on the basis that there is a contravention, of Section 33. Thus, on the rival contentions advanced by the parties, the following questions arise for consideration:
(1) Whether the appellant is a 'protected workman', and if so, whether there is a contravention of Section 33 (3) (a) as contended by the appellant?
(2) Whether there has been an alteration of conditions of service to the prejudice of the appellant and whether the order of transfer amounts to a contravention of Section 33 (2) of the Act? and
(3) Whether even when there is no alteration of conditions of service, the order of transfer could be canvassed before the Tribunal on the ground that it is mala fide and vindictive?
10. As already stated, the Tribunal, in this case has held that the appellant is a 'protected workman'. But the learned Judge (Mohan, J.) has not dealt with that question as he chose to dispose of the writ petition on a more limited ground that the complaint filed by the appellant is not maintainable. After going through the relevant statutory provisions and after considering the rival submissions made by both parties, we have to disagree with the view taken by the Tribunal that the appellant is a 'protected workman' and hold that he is not a 'protected workman'.
11. 'Protected workman' has been defined in the Explanation to Section 33 (3) as a workman who, being a member of the executive or other office bearer of a registered trade union connected with the establishment, is recognised as such in accordance with rules made in that behalf. Rule 65 of the Madras Industrial Disputes Rules, 1958 deals with 'protected workman'. Sub-rule (1) of Rule 65 says that 'every registered trade union connected with an industrial establishment, to which the Act applies, shall communicate to the employer before the 30th September of every year, the names and addresses of such of its officers as are employed in that establishment and as in its opinion, should be recognised as 'protected workmen' during the subsequent calendar year. Sub-rule (2) says that 'the employer shall subject to Sub-section (4) of Section 33 recognize such workman to be 'protected workman' for the purposes of Sub-section (3) of Section 33 and communicate to the union, in writing within fifteen days of the receipt of the names and addresses under Sub-rule (1) from the Union, the list of workmen recognized as 'protected workmen' Sub-rule (5) says that 'when a dispute arises between the employer and any registered trade union in respect of matters connected with the recognition of 'protected workman' under the rule, the dispute shall be referred to the Labour Officer concerned who will call for and scrutinise such of the records as may be relevant and give his decision thereon which should be taken to be final'. The question is, whether the appellant herein a 'protected workman' as contemplated by Section 33 (3) read with Rule 65 of the rules.
12. In this case, communication, dated 27th January, 1978, has been sent by the All India Indian Potash Employees' Union of which the appellant is a member giving the Management the list of office-bearers selected for the year 1978 and requesting the Management to recognise five of the office-bearers of which the appellant is one as 'protected workman'. According to Rule 65, the Trade Union concerned should communicate to the employer before the 30th of September every year the names and addresses of such of those whom the Union wants to treat as 'protected workmen' for the subsequent calendar year. In this case, since the order of transfer has been passed on 1st June, 1979, the question to be considered, is whether the appellant is a 'protected workman' in the calendar year 1978-79.
13. The communication, dated 27th January, 1978 from the Union which has been relied on by the appellant shows that the recognition of the appellant and others as 'protected workmen' was sought for by the Union only in respect of the office bearers selected for the year 1978 and not for the officers elected for the year 1979. In this case' there is no material to indicate whether the appellant was elected as an office bearer for the year 1979 and whether a, similar communication has been sent by the Union to the Management for recognition of the appellant as a 'protected workman' as contemplated by Rule 65 for the calendar year 1978-79. The communication, dated 27th January, 1978, even if it is taken to relate to the calendar year, 1978 notwithstanding the fact that the communication has not been sent before 30th September, of the previous year, still that can be taken to be a requisition for recognition of certain union officers as 'protected workmen' for the year 1978 and not for the calendar year 1979 with which we are concerned. In this case, the Tribunal has given a finding that the appellant is a protected workman merely on the basis of the communication, dated 27th January, 1978 though on the face of it, it clearly shows that it relates to the calendar year 1978 and not to the calendar year 1979. The Tribunal has not considered the scope and effect of Rule 65 which deals with the manner and method of recognition of certain workmen an 'protected workmen'. We are, therefore, of the view that the Tribunal is in error in holding that the appellant is a 'protected workman'. If the appellant is not a protected workman', then, there can be no 'violation of Section 33 (3) which deals with an action taken against the 'protected workman'. We have to, therefore, hold that there is no contravention of Section 33 (3) (a) as contended by the appellant.
14. The second and third questions relate to the scope and ambit of Section 33 (2) of the Act. It is the common case of both parties that Section 33 (1) does not apply to the facts of this case and the controversy is only with regard to the applicability of Section 33 (2). Section 33 (2) is as follows:
33(2) During the pendency of any such proceeding in respect of an industrial dispute, the employer may, in accordance with the standing orders applicable to a workman concerned in such dispute or where there are no such standing orders, in accordance with the terms of the contract, whether express implied, between him and the workman,
(a) alter, in regard to any matter not connected with the dispute, the conditions of service applicable to that workman immediately before the commencement of such proceedings:
(b) for any misconduct not connected with the dispute, discharge or punishment whether by dismissal or otherwise, the workman.
15. On the face of this case, we are concerned only with Clause (a) of Sub-section (2) of Section 33. The fact that there was an industrial dispute pending before the Industrial Tribunal at the time when the Management chose to transfer the appellant is not in dispute. As per Sub-section (2), an employer can either in accordance with the Standing Orders or where there are no Standing Orders, in accordance with the terms of the contract between him and the workman, alter, in regard to any matter not connected with the dispute, the conditions of service applicable to that workman. Thus, the said provision enables the employer to alter the conditions of service applicable to the workman immediately before the commencement of the proceeding in accordance with the Standing Orders or the terms of the contract. In this case, it has been admitted that there was no Standing Order. Therefore, we are concerned only with the terms of the contract of employment between the appellant and the Management.
16. For purpose of Section 33 (2) (a), we have to see whether the employer has altered the terms and conditions of service de hors the terms of the contract of employment, which will amount to a contravention of that provision. In this case, the contract of employment is contained in the original appointment order dated 1st August, 1973 and the order, of confirmation, dated 2nd January, 1974. The original appointment order, dated 1st August, 1973 inter alia is to the following effect:
Your headquarters will be at Madras. The Company however, reserves the right to transfer your services to any of our offices/field locations within the Indian Union as may be decided by the Company from time to time.
In the subsequent confirmation order, dated 2nd January, 1974, the terms and conditions of the original appointment order have been registered and stated that they are binding on the parties. Thus, according to the terms and conditions of the appointment, the appellant, is liable to serve in any of the offices or field locations of the Management within the Indian Union as may be decided by the Management from time to time; Thus, prima facie the transferability of the appellant to any place in India is a condition of service applicable to him, immediately before the commencement of the proceeding. However, according to the appellant, that condition of service fixed by the contract of employment has been altered by the Award, dated 26th August, 1977 of the Industrial Tribunal rendered in I. D. No. 51 of 1976 which arose between the same Management and the All India Indian Potash Employees' Union, where the Tribunal has held as follows:.it will not be in the interest of the business which alone is the paramount consideration to impose a blanket prohibition of transfer on the Company. It is no doubt true that the transfer will cause harship to the employees outside the State but the exigencies of business should be given a paramount importance and transfer has to be done if it is in the interest of the Company. But at the same time it is open to the employees to raise an industrial dispute if a transfer lacks bona fides and if the transfer is made with a view to victimise the individual workman; Industrial peace and contentment are the sine quo non for the prosperity of any business of industry. The management is directed to bear that in mind in making transfers and see that minimum hardship is caused to their workman. Bat the demand of the workman that they should not be transferred outside the State is unsustainable.
17. The question is whether the conditions of service of the appellant stood altered by the Award of the Tribunal in I. D. No. 51 of 1976. That Award arose out of a demand raised by the All India Indian Potash Employees' Union that no member of the subordinate or clerical/field staff should be transferred outside the State in which he/she is first appointed. The question referred in that case is as follows:
Whether the demand of workman that no member of subordinate or clerical/field staff should be transferred outside the State in which he/she is first appointed, is justified and if so to what extent?
The Tribunal, in fact, held that the said demand of the workman is not justified and passed an Award to that effect. It is no doubt true that the Tribunal has expressed an opinion that though it is not possible to impose a prohibition of transfer on the company, it is open to the employees to raise an industrial dispute, if individual cases of transfer are found to be lacking in bona fides and made with a view to victimise the individual workman, and the Management is directed to bear that in mind in making transfers and see that minimum hardships is caused to their workman. When the Tribunal has specifically held that the demand of the workmen that no one should be transferred outside the State in which he/ she was first appointed is not justified, and an Award has been passed accordingly I do not see how certain observations made by the Industrial Tribunal will have the effect of altering the existing conditions of service. The learned Counsel for the appellant contended before the Tribunal that the Management has not considered the question of hardship that would be caused to the appellant as a result of the transfer, and hence the order of transfer should be taken to be not in accordance with the contract of employment and as such it should be taken to be in contravention of the conditions of service. This contention has been accepted by the Tribunal. But, on a due consideration, we are of the view that the Tribunal is not right in holding that the Award in I. D. No. 51 of 1976 has the effect of altering the terms of employment or the conditions of service set out therein. The observations made by the Tribunal in its Award in that case will merely amount to an expression of opinion as to what the employer should do while considering the question of transfer outside the State. The Tribunal itself contemplates the employer acting contrary to its suggestions and the workman challenging in an Industrial dispute the order of transfer on the ground that it lacks bonafides and has been made to victimise him. But the observations of the Tribunal will not result in an result in an automatic alteration of the terms and conditions of service. Therefore, the learned Counsel for the appellant is not right in stating that any order of transfer outside the State will automatically offend the provisions of Section 33(2) (a), if there is no alteration of the conditions of service applicable to the appellant immediately before the commencement of I. D. No. 46 of 1978, then the Management has got the right to transfer the appellant to any place even outside the State. In Canara Banking Corporation v. Vittal : (1963)IILLJ354SC , which was also a case of complaint arising under Section 33-A, where the transfer was outside the lingual area, the transfer was upheld reversing the Award passed by the Tribunal. Again, in Canara Goods Carriers (P) Ltd.' v. Labour Court, Madras' : (1977)IILLJ199Mad , the Court has laid down the principle that the Management has got an inherent right to transfer its employees in the interest of the employer. In Syndicate Bank v. Its Workmen (1966) 1 M.L.J. 440, the Management's right to transfer and distribute its personnel according to its administrative exigencies has been upheld.
18. The learned Counsel for the appellant refers to the two decisions of the Supreme Court, namely. Air India Corporation, Bombay v. V.A. Rebello : (1972)ILLJ501SC and Punjab Beverages (P) Ltd. v. Suresh : (1978)IILLJ1SC , in support of his submission that if an order of transfer is actuated by mala fides it will amount to alteration of conditions of service to the prejudice of the worker. According to the learned Counsel, though a mere order of transfer made purely on the ground of administrative exigencies may not be said to alter the conditions of service, where the order is tainted with mala fides, it should be taken to be an alteration of the condition of service to the prejudice of the workman. It is further contended by the learned Counsel for the appellant that since the criteria laid down by the Industrial Tribunal in I. D. No. 51 of 1976 that in matters or transfer, the Management must see that minimum hardship is caused to their workmen had not been kept in mind by the management, it would amount to an alteration in condition of service, and that this is sufficient for the Tribunal's Award to be upheld.
19. In Air India Corporation, Bombay v. V.A. Rebello : (1972)ILLJ501SC , dealing with the scope of Section 33, the Supreme Court has observed as follows:
The anxiety of the Legislature to effectively achieve the object of duly protecting the workmen against victimisation or unfair labour practices consistently with the preservation of the employer's bona fide right to maintain discipline and efficiency in the industry for securing the maximum production in a peaceful harmonious atmosphere is obvious from the overall scheme of these sections. Turning first to Section 33, Sub-section (1) of this section deals with the case of a workman concerned in a pending dispute who has been prejudicially affected by an action in regard to a matter connected with such pending dispute and Sub-section (2) similarly deals with workman concerned in regard to matters unconnected with such pending disputes. Sub-section (1) bans alteration to the prejudice of the workman concerned in the conditions of service applicable to him immediately before the commencement of the proceedings and discharge or punishment whether by dismissed : (1972)ILLJ501SC or otherwise of the workman concerned for misconduct connected with the dispute without the express permission in writing of the authority dealing with the pending proceeding. Sub-section (2) places a similar ban in regard to matters not connected with the pending dispute but the employer is free to discharge or dismiss the workman by paying wages for the one month provided he applies to the authority dealing with the pending proceedings for approval of the action taken.
The said decision only dealt with cases which arose under Section 33 (2) (b) and not under Section 33 (2) (a). The general observations made by the Supreme Court regarding the circumstances under which Section 33 was enacted do not help us to decide the issue before us as to whether there was alteration in the conditions of service, In Punjab Beverages v. Suresh Chand : (1978)IILLJ1SC ., the Supreme Court dealt with an order of dismissal which was challenged as being violative of Section 33 (2) (6). While dealing with the question of contravention of Section 33 (2) (b), in that case, the Supreme Court held that there was a contravention of Section 33 (2) (b), in that, no application has been filed under Section 33 (2) (b). Bat the order of dismissal against the workman concerned not having been shown to be an act of victimisation, such contravention does not have the effect of rendering the order of dismissal void and inoperative. That case does not lay down that an order of transfer, if passed to victimise the employee, will amount to an alteration of condition of 'service.
20. The above decisions relied on by the learned Counsel for the appellant do not support his stand that an order of transfer passed by the Management in accordance with the terms of contract of employment will amount to a contravention of the terms of employment merely because it lacks bona fide. According to the learned Counsel for the petitioner, only if the transfer is made for exigencies of service, it could be held to be in accordance with the contract of employment, and if the power is exercised mala fides, then, the action of transfer should be taken to be outside the contract of employment, In Canara Banking Corporation v. Vittal : (1963)IILLJ354SC , referred to above, the question arose whether the order of transfer of a clerk made by the Bank should ordinarily be presumed to be proper unless it is proved to be mala fide or by way of victimisation, unfair labour practices or some ulterior motive not connected with the business interests of the Bank, In that case, the mere fact that the order of transfer would cause hardship to the concerned employee was held not sufficient ground for holding the transfer order as one vitiated by unfair labour practice. Even there, as in this case, there was an earlier Award called, 'Sastri Award' which had suggested that the transfers outside the State or the language area in which a particular workman has been serving should normally be avoided if they can be avoided without sacrificing the interest of the Bank. Notwithstanding the said opinion, the Banking Management in that case ordered the transfer of a clerk without his consent. When a complaint was made under Section 33-A by the concerned employee on the ground that the order of transfer contravened Section 33, the Supreme Court held that the right of a bank to distribute its workmen to the best advantage, even though this may involve transfers outside the State OF the language area in which a particular workman has been working, was left unimpaired by the Sastri Award, except that they could be avoided without sacrificing the interests of the Bank, that the management of the bank is in the best position to judge how to distribute its man-power and whether a particular transfer can be avoided or not; that it is not possible for Industrial Tribunals to have before them all the materials which are relevant for this purpose and even if these could be made available, the tribunals are by no means suited for making decisions in matters of this nature, and that therefore, it is proper for the Industrial Tribunal to accept as correct any submission by the Management that an order of transfer has been made only because it was found unavoidable, The one exception to that statement is, where there is reason to believe that the Management resorted to the transfer mala fide by way of victimisation, unfair labour practice, or with ulterior motive not connected with the business interests of the bank. According to the said decision of the Supreme Court, when an order of transfer is claimed to have been passed by the Management taking the interest of the Company, it is for the workman concerned to prove by producing the material to show that the order of transfer has been passed mala fide by way of victimisation and unfair labour practice.
21. The question is, whether the appellant has shown the order of transfer to be mala fide or by way of victimisation and unfair labour practice. In this case, the Management has stated that the order of transfer has been passed bona fide as the Management required the Cervices of an experienced staff such as the appellant to the new Regional Office at Ahmedabad to deal with the work relating to the issue of delivery orders, stock accounts, invoicing, road subsidy, settlement of storage and transport and handling bills, maintenance of imprest cash account including settlement of field staff expenses, etc., and for such efficient work of that office, the appellant herein was considered to be suitable, and therefore, he was transferred from Madras to Ahmedabad. The Tribunal should have normally accepted the said statement of the Management as per the decision of the Supreme Court in Canara Banking Corporation v, Vittal : (1963)IILLJ354SC , unless the appellant has shown the order of transfer to be an act of victimisation and unfair labour practice. The Tribunal has straightaway proceeded to say that the Management had sought to transfer the petitioner to Ahmedabad with a view to victimise him for trade union activities. The question then is, whether the Tribunal is right in holding that the order of transfer is mala fide and amounts to victimisation on the bas is of the materials available on record. In this case, in his complaint, the appellant has merely stated that the order of transfer is an act of victimisation for the complainant's active trade union activities. In his complaint, be has also referred to the fact that the Management recently withheld his pay for 12 days without granting him earned leave applied for by him on the ground that his mother had undergone a major operation and his presence was essential to attend on her. In the complaint, no material is referred to as to why the Management should initiate action for victimisation against the appellant alone. At the stage of the evidence, of course, the appellant has produced certain materials to show that the union of which ha is a Treasurer had distributed certain pamphlet scriticising the style and manner of functioning of the Management, and therefore, the Management had sufficient motive to take vindictive action as against him. The Tribunal has chosen to accept the plea of the appellant that the Management wanted to victimise him because he is an office-bearer of the Union which published certain pamphlets containing allegations against the present Management. The reason given by the Tribunal for so holding is that the Management has chosen to take action' only against the appellant for the statements contained in the pamphlet published and circulated by the Union while in fact, a legal notice Exhibit W-3 has issued against all the Union officials as seen from Exhibit W-4, he reply of the Union dated 1st April, 1978 wherein it is clear that notices similar to Exhibit W-3 had been issued to as many as seven Union officials including the petitioner. The Tribunal is, therefore, in error in thinking that the appellant was singled out for a hostile treatment. Therefore, as already stated, the finding of the Tribunal that the order of transfer amounted to victimisation is entirely based, on the fact that the Management had chosen to take action against the appellant alone after leaving out the other Union officials. While in fact the legal notice has been issued to all the Union Officials and action was dropped against all after getting a reply from the Union. The Tribunal was not justified in stating that for the incident of publishing and circulating the pamphlet, the appellant has been picked out for victimisation. The Tribunal has also taken the Management's refusal to grant leave to the appellant when he applied for privilege leave as a ground for finding that the Management had grudge against the appellant. It must be remembered that the appellant's application for leave was for the period between 5th March to 16th March, 1979, i.e., 3 months before the order of transfer. I do not see how the Management's, refusal to grant leave three months earlier can be taken as a ground for questioning the order of transfer, Thus, on the materials produced by the appellant before the Tribunal, the order of transfer cannot be said to be mala fide or an act of victimisation. If the Management is aggrieved against the printing and publication of the pamphlets containing allegations against it, then, it could have taken action against all the seven union officials and not against the appellant alone.
The fact that the Management was somewhat harsh in the matter of grant of leave to the appellant cannot also be taken to be a reason for holding that the order of transfer is one of victimisation. We have to, therefore, hold that there is no material to conclusively establish that the order of transfer is mala fide and is an act of victimisation as has been held by the Tribunal. Once the order of transfer is found to be not mala fide or an act of victimisation, then, it should held to have been passed by the Management strictly in accordance with the contract of employment.
22. In view of what has been stated above, the order of Mohan, J., has to be upheld and the writ appeal has to be dismissed, and is accordingly dismissed. There will, however, be no order as to costs.