1. The petitioner herein is a private limited company owning three groups of tea estates comprising of Highways, Venniar and Manalaar estates, and respondents 2 to 4 are the three unions functioning in that group of estates. According to the petitioner, on the afternoon of first January, 1971, the pluckers of the Highways Estate refused to fill up leaf bags which is part of their normal duties. When the management made separate arrangements to fill up leaf bags by employing casual labour there was an assault on them. On 2nd January, 1971, the workers throughout the group struck work in support of certain demands. On 4th January, 1971, there was a go-slow by the pluckers in two divisions, Cloudland and Highways. In the Highways division there was a disorderly behaviour by pluckers towards the staff members. This position is said to have continued on the 5th and 6th January, 1971. On 7th January, 1971, the management advised the union leaders that unless normalcy was restored immediately the management would be constrained to discontinue work in the concerned departments, On 3th January, 1971, normal work was done. On 9th January, 1971, all the pluckers refused to go to the fields indicated by the management for plucking but they plucked in the fields of their own choice with a view to create loss to the management. As a result of the conduct on the part of the pluckers in not carrying out the directions of the management, the management declared a lock-out in all the pluckers' sections of the plantation, 10th was a Sunday. On 11th January, 1971, the entire body of workers struck work and did not turn out for work and, therefore, the management declared a lock-out. The lock-out continued upto 21st January, 1971.
2. There were certain conciliation proceedings as regards the justification for the lock-out between the period 9th to 21st of January, 1971. After the failure of the conciliation proceedings the matter was reported to Government and the Government referred the following two issues for adjudication by its order dated 22nd March, 1971 :
(1) Whether the workmen of Highways Group of Estates are entitled for wages for the period of lock-out from 9th January, 1971 to 21st January, 1971 ?
(2) Whether the 24 pluckers of Manalaar Estate are entitled for wages for the period of their strike for three working days from 29th December, 1970 to 31st December, 1970 and whether 12 pluckers of Cloudland division are entitled for wages for the period of their strike for seven working days from 30th December, 1970 to 6th January, 1971 ?
The Industrial Tribunal, Madras, disposed of the reference holding that while the lockout ordered on 9th January, 1971, as regards the pluckers' section was justified the lockout ordered by the management on 11th -January, 1971, in respect of other workers in the entire group of estates is not justified and, therefore, the management is bound to pay the workmen other than pluckers wages for the period of lock-out, that is from 9th January, 1971 to 21st January, 1971. It, however, held in favour of the management as regards the second issue, which does not relate to the lock-out ordered on 9th January, 1971 and 11th January, 1971. The validity of the award of the Tribunal so far as it relates to the first issue has been challenged in this writ petition by the petitioner-management.
3. The learned Counsel for the petitioner contends that the Tribunal has erred in coming to the conclusion that the lock-out was not justified, that the indisciplined behaviour of the workmen from 1st January, 1971, till the morning of 11th January, 1971, caused considerable apprehension in its mind that it is absolutely necessary to order a lock-out to protect its properties, and that the Tribunal having rightly observed in paragraph 14 of the award that M30 to M53 prove that the workers had indulged in acts of indiscipline till January 11, 1971, had erred in coming to the conclusion that the lock-out was not justified. The petitioner's stand is that the conduct of the workmen from January 1, 1971 to January 11, 1971, should be taken into account for deciding whether the lock-out ordered is justified or not and that it is not open to the Tribunal to ignore the said conduct and decide the question as to the justification of the lock-out only from the incidents that took place on January 11, 1971. Mr. M.R. Narayanaswami, learned Counsel for the petitioner, submits that the Tribunal has overlooked very many circumstances such as the attitude of the workers for a few days before the lock-out, the attitude of the union leaders inciting the workmen to act violently in the event of the management not complying with their demands, the conduct of the workmen in going on an illegal strike on the morning of January 11, 1971, and disobeying the notice of the management asking them to report for duty, in holding that the lock-out was not justified and that the Tribunal also erred in its finding that as normalcy prevailed in the plantation on January 8, 1971, it was not open for the management to declare a lockout on January 11, 1971, merely because there was strike by the workers.
4. Mr. Dolia, learned Counsel for the respondent, points out that the mere fact that the workers struck work on the forenoon of January 11, 1971 cannot be taken as a ground for ordering lock-out, that if the workers resort to an illegal strike that will not enable the management to order a lock -out for a lock-out can be ordered by the management only when it apprehend violence and loss to its machinery and other properties if the workmen are allowed to work, and that in this case there was not much of a dispute between the management and the workmen other than pluckers and, that, therefore, the management is not justified in declaring a lock-out of sections other than the pluckers' section. The Tribunal has accepted the said contention and held that whatever might have been the position before January 11, 1971, when the lock-out was declared, there was no reasonable apprehension of any violence and, therefore, the lock-out ordered by the management is not justified except in respect of the pluckers' section.
5. I am inclined to agree with the view taken by the Tribunal in this case. To find out whether the lock-out ordered on January 11, 1971, is justified or not, one has to find out the atmosphere that prevailed on that day. There is no dispute that normal work was carried on in the group of estates on January 8, 1971, in sections other than pluckers' section. Though there were acts of indiscipline in not filling up the leaf bags, etc., the immediate provocation for declaring the lock-out in other sections on January 11, 1971, appears to be the strike resorted to by the workmen on the forenoon of January 11, 1971. Apart from the fact that the workers have not reported for duty at 8 a.m. as usual, on January 11, 1971, there was no act of violence or apprehension that the workers will resort to violence. As a matter of fact the management has not alleged that the workers became unruly or that their behaviour was such as to apprehend damage to its property. Therefore, there could not have been a reasonable apprehension in the minds of the management that if a lock-out is not declared it will be difficult to protect its properties. The only provocation appears to be the strike resorted to by the workers on that day. But I do not see how a lock-out can be declared merely on the ground that the workers have refrained from attending to work. If the strike resorted to by the workmen is found to be illegal, they will not be entitled to salary or wages, during that period of illegal strike. But that will not enable the management to declare a lock-out.
6. In Pradip Lamp Works v. Their Workmen, (1969) 38 FJR 20 (SC), it was pointed out by the Supreme Court that even if a lockout is not justified if the workmen are also blameworthy and it is their conduct which brought about the lock-out then there should be an apportionment of the blame between the management and the workmen. In a recent decision of the Supreme Court in the Statesman Ltd. v. Their Workmen : (1976)ILLJ484SC , it has been pointed out (at page 366) :.The backdrop of law may be briefly recapitulated before going into factual details.
If the strike is illegal, wages during the period will ordinarily be negatived unless considerate circumstances constrain a different course. Likewise, if the lock-out is illegal full wages for the closure period shall have to be ' forked out', if one may use that expression. But, in between lies a grey area of twilit law. Strictly speaking, the whole field is left to the judicious discretion of the Tribunal. Where the strike is illegal and the sequel of a lock-out legal, we have to view the whole course of development and not stop with examining the initial legitimacy. If one side or other behaves unreasonably or the overall interests of good industrial relations warrant the Tribunal making such directions regarding strike period wages as will meet with justice, fair-play and pragmatic wisdom, there is no error in doing so. His power is flexible.
In the above case it was held that though the lock-out was illegal when it was ordered, its continuance without reference to the change in the attitude of the workmen was unjustified and, therefore, the blame for the lock-out apportioned as between the management and the workmen.
7. As already stated, the cause for the lockout ordered on January 11, 1971, is the strike resorted to by the workmen on the forenoon. The strike resorted to by the workmen on 11th January, 1971, if looked at in the context of the behaviour of the workmen earlier in the month, is sufficient to cause apprehension and anxiety in the mind of the management and this might have driven it to declare a lock-out. The lock-out ordered by the management has to be judged in the light of the unjustified strike resorted to by the workmen. As the strike resorted to by the workmen was the immediate cause for the lock-out and though the lock-out cannot be fully justified as there was no reasonable apprehension of violence or of danger to its property, the workers are also partly to blame. In those circumstances I consider that the Tribunal has to consider the question of apportionment of the blame as between the management and the workmen. In this view, while upholding the finding of the Tribunal that the lock-out is not justified, the Tribunal is directed to consider the question of apportionment of blame on the two parties and its effect on the amount of wages to be awarded to the workmen except the pluckers for the period of the lock-out.
8. The writ petition is, therefore, partly allowed and the matter is remitted to the Tribunal for a decision on the question of apportionment of the blame and for passing an award for the wages of the workmen on the basis of the said apportionment. There will be no order as to costs.