1. The Indian Bank (one of the nationalised banks and the sole petitioner before me and hereinafter referred to as the Bank) promoted 181 members of its clerical cadre staff as officers and posted them to its branches in northern India. These officers were not allowed the benefit of two additional increments which were, however, given to officers of the same grade who were not promoted from the clerical cadre staff. The discrimination led to a controversy between the Bank and the Indian Bank Employees Union, Madras (hereinafter referred to as the union) which culminated in a reference of the following industrial dispute by the Government of India in the Ministry of Labour for adjudication by the Industrial Tribunal, Madras (hereinafter called the Tribunal),
Whether the action of the management of the Indian Bank, Madras in denying the grant of two additional increments to staff promoted as officers and posted to the branches of the bank in North India is justified? If not, to what relief are they entitled?
Before the dispute could be decided on merits by the Tribunal, the Bank raised before it a preliminary objection to the effect that the reference made by the Government of India was incompetent because the matter covered by it was not an 'industrial dispute' within the meaning of that expression as defined in clerk) of Section 2 of the Industrial Disputes Act (hereinafter described as the Act). That clause states:
'industrial dispute' means any dispute or difference between employers and employers, or between employers and workmen or between workmen and workmen, which is connected with the employment or non-employment or the terms of employment or with the conditions of labour, of any person.
The Tribunal overruled the preliminary objection raised by the Bank and in doing so referred to the definition of the word ' workman ' in Clause (s) of Section 2 of the Act and in the light thereof interpreted the expression ' any person ' occurring at the end of Clause (k) of Section 2 of the Act and held that that expression was not synonymous with any 'workman' as defined in the Act but was also not wide enough to mean any and every person. In its opinion the expression meant a person in whose employment or non-employment or the terms of employment or the conditions of labour the workmen raising a dispute bad a direct and substantial interest. It proceeded to state that although the officers of the Bank whose terms of employment were disputed before it were not ' workmen ', they were persons in whose terms of employment the workmen who had raised the dispute were directly and substantially interested. Consequently, it concluded that the reference was competent end that, therefore, it had jurisdiction to deal with it on merits.
The order of the Tribunal is dated the 28th of August, 1975 and it is that order by which the Bank feels aggrieved and which it leeks to have quashed by the issuance of a writ of certiorarl.
2. The determination of the controversy before me depends upon the interpretation of the expression ' any person ' occurring in Clause (k] above extracted which has been the subject matter of quite a few decisions which I proceed to discuss.
3. In a Bombay case reported as TV.K. Sen and Ors. v. Labour Appellate Tribunal of India end others 1953 I L.L.J 6, Chagla, C.J., and Shah, J., held that the dispute contemplated by Clause (k) is a controversy in which the workmen raising the dispute are directly find substantially interested and rejected the contention raised on behalf of the workmen before them that the expression meant any and every person. In that case the controversy related to scales of pay or the bonus to be given to divisional heads and foremen (who were not 'work, men') employed by she Ford Motor Company and the claim of the workmen of the company was turned down on (he plea that they had no direct or substantial inn rest m the conditions of service of such divisional heads and foremen.
4. The Bombay decision above cited was approved by their Lordships of the Supreme Court in A'sam Chah Karmachari Stongha v. Dimakuchi Tea Estate : (1958)ILLJ500SC in which S.K. Das, J., speaking for the majority explained the scope of the expression 'any person' occurring in Clause (k) thus:
The expression 'any person' in the definition clause means, in our opinion, a person in whose employment or non-employment, or terms of employment, or condi-tions of labour the workmen as a class have a direct or substantial Interest- with whom they have, under the scheme of the Act, a community of interest. Our reason for so holding is not merely that the Act makes a distinction between workmen and non-workmen, but because a dispute to be a real dispute must be one in which the parties to the dispute have a direct or substantial interest. Can it be said that workmen as a class are directly or substantially interested in the employment, non-employment, terms of employment or conditions of labour of persons who belong to the supervisory staff and are. under provisions of the Act, non -workmen on whom the Act has conferred no benefit, who cannot by themselves be parties to an industrial dispute: and for whose representation the Act makes no particular provision We venture to think that the answer must be in the negative.
On this point his Lordship summarised the law thus :
To summarize : Having regard to the scheme and objects of the Act and its other provisions, the expression 'any person' in Section 2(k) of the Act must be read subject to such limitations and qualificatoins as arise from the context ; the two crucial limitations arc :
(1) the dispute must be a real dispute between the parties to the dispute (as indicated in the first two parts of the definition clause) so as to be capable of settlement adjudication by one party to the dispute giving necessary relief to the other, and
(2) the person regarding whom the dispute is raised must be one in whose employment, non-employment, terms of employment, or conditions of labour (as the case may be) the parties to the dispute have director substantial interest.
and then observed:
In the absence of such interest the dispute cannot be said to be a real dispute between the parties. Where the workmen raise a dispute as against their employer, the person regarding whose employment, non-employment, terms of employment or conditions of labour the work-men as a class have a direct or substantial interest.
In the case before us. Dr.K.P. Banerjee was not a workman'. He belonged to the medical or technical staff-a different category altogether from workmen. The appellants had no direct, nor substantial interest in his employment or non-employment, and even assuming that he was a member of the same trade union, it cannot be said, on the tests laid down by us, that the dispute regarding his termination of service was an industrial dispute within the meaning of Section 2(k) of the Act.
5. The interpretation of Clause (k) again came up for consideration at the bands of their Lordships of the Supreme Court in Standard Vacuum Refining Company of India Limited v. Their Workmen end another 1960 II L.L.J. 233, in which the demand of the workmen was that its employer, viz.. the Standard Vacuum Refining Company of India Limited, abolish the contract system of employing labour for cleaning and maintenance work at the refinery including the premises and plot belonging to it and absorb the workmen employed through the contractors as regular employees of its own. Following Dimakuchi's case (supra) which was extensively referred to their Lordships of the Supreme Court held that the work, men had sufficient community of interest with the contractor's employees as also substantial interest in the subject-matter of the dispute in the sense that the class to which the workmen belonged was substantially affected thereby and that, therefore, the dispute raised was industrial dispute.
6. The next case in point is All India Reserve Bank Employees' Association and Anr. V. Reserve Bank of India and Anr. 1965 XI L.L.J. 175. in which their Lordships of the Supreme Court followed the dictum in Dimokuchi's case (supra) but in relation to the first paragraph extracted above therefrom and ending with the sentence 'We venture to think that the answer must be in the negative.' they observed:
It may, however, be said that is the dispute regarding employment, non-employment, terms of employment or conditions of labour of non-workmen in which workmen are themselves vitally interested, the workmen may be able to raise an industrial dispute. Workmen can, for example, raise a dispute that a class of employees not within the definition of workman should be recruited by promotion from workmen. When they do so. the workmen raise a dispute about the terms of their own employment though incidentally the terms of employment of those who are not workmen is involved. But work, men cannot take up a dispute in respect of a class of employees who are not workmen have no direct interest of their own. What direct interest suffices is a question of fact,, bat 'it must be a real and positive interest and not fanciful or remote.
The controversy before their Lordships related to the conditions of service of Class II employees of the Reserve Bank of India, who had all been granted, pending the reference, a scale of pay beginning with a sum in excess of Rs 500 so that they ceased to be workmen. Turning down the contention on behalf of the Reserve Bank of India that the Tribunal hid no jurisdiction to arbitrate in respect of the dispute between it and those of its employees who fell within the category of workmen, their Lordships held :
It follows, therefore, that the national Tribunal was in error in not considering the claims of Class II employees whether at the instance of members drawing less than Rs. 500 as wages or at the instance of those lower down in the scale of employment. The national Tribunal was also in error in thinking that scales of wages in excess of Rs 500 per month at any stage were not within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal or that Government could not make a reference in such a contingency.
However, as the scales of pay granted to Class II officers were admitted on all hands to be quite generous, their Lordships treated the matter as closed, but not without remarking further :
We would have been required to consider the scales applicable to those in Class II but for the fact that the Reserve Bank has fixed scales which are admitted to be quite generous.
7. A view similar to that expressed in the Reserve Bank's case was again taken by their Lordships of the Supreme Court in Workmen v. Greaves Cotton and Co., Ltd , and Ors. 1971 XI L.L J 479, in which Dimakuchi's case, the Reserve Bank's case and the Standard Vacuum Refining Company's case discussed above were, among others, referred to and it was reiterated that if the workmen raising the dispute were directly or substantially interested in the conditions of employment of another person or had a community of interest with that person, the dispute raised by them in relation to him would be an industrial dispute whether or not such person was a workman.
8. It is thus well-settled that for an individual to fall within the scope of the expression 'any person ' occurring in Clause (k) of Section 2 of the Act, he need not at all be a workman. Further, he must be a person in whose conditions of employment, etc., the workers are directly or substantially interested or with whom they have a community of interest, and whether the person concerned satisfies this test is a question of fact in each case.
9. In the present case, it is admitted on all hands that by an agreement between the Bank and the union the former is bound to fill a fixed percentage of the posts of officers from amongst the clerical cadre staff ; and that be so, what the workmen are fighting for is really their own conditions of service, i.e., conditions of service which would obtain for them when they are promoted as officer. The interest which they have in the determination of the conditions of service of the officers is neither remote nor unsubstantial but direct and vital in view of the fact that a fix d percentage of higher posts has to go to them. Thus their case is lactually similar to the Reserve Bank's case (supra) and distinguishable from Dimakuchi's case, al though the principles laid down in both are the same.
10. Learned Counsel for the Bank, however, urged that according to the Reserve Bank's case the demand by workmen could not be the subject-matter of an 'industrial dispute' if it related to the conditions of service of employees who are (non-workmen out and out), ar.d for this proposition he relied on Andhra Bank Limited v. Industrial Tribunal : (1976)ILLJ521AP , a single Bench decision of the Andhra Pradesh High Court in which the reference made by the Government to the Industrial Tribunal (Central) Hyderabad, was:
Whether the policy adopted by the management of the Andhra Bank regarding the fitment of clerical employees on promotion to Grade III officers is uniform in respect of all employees of the Bank and whether it is fair and justified If not, to what relief the employees affected are entitled ?
The Grade III officers admittedly enjoyed a scale of pay carrying a starting salary of more than Rs. 500 and their duties also were supervisory in character so that they were non-workmen from the inception of their service On behalf of the clerical staff of the Andhra Bank which raised the dispute It was contended that the dispute was an 'industrial dispute' because it satisfied the two essential requirements, namely, (1) that it was a dispute between workmen and their employer and (2) that such workmen were directly and substantially interested in the conditions of service of Grade III officers even though such officers were non-workmen from the inception of their service. The contention was overruled by Ramachandra Raju, J., who discussed inter alia the Reserve Bank's case and the Greaves Cotton's case (supra) at length. In relation to the Reserve Bank's case, he observed :
It follows from what the Supreme Court said that even workmen, though they may have a direct interest in the dispute relating to a class of employees, the post relating to those employees, being their next promotion post, cannot raise a dispute if the employees of that class are not workmen even at the inception of their appointment to that class, their employment being in a supervisory capacity drawing wages exceeding Rs. 500 per month. That is what is meant when the Supreme Court said, as mentioned above, that Class 11 employees of the Reserve Bank can only be deprived of the benefits if they are non-workmen at the time they seek the protection of the Industrial Disputes Act. Not only that, what had happened in that case was that after the dispute was referred to the National Tribunal, the Reserve Bank revised the salaries of its employees in such a way that the emoluments, equal to wages, of Class II employees exceeded Rs, 500 per month even to start with. That was done obviously even as admitted by the counsel of the Reserve Bank before the Supreme Court, to exclude altogether Class II employees from the category of workmen and to render the Industrial Disputes Act inapplicable to them. With regard to this ultimately the Supreme Court said that they would have been required to consider the scale applicable to those in Class II but for the fact that the Reserve Bank has fixed scales to start with in excess of Rs. 500 per month. The Supreme Court continued that in view of the fact that all Class II employees now received at the start wages in excess of Rs. 500 per month, there is really no issue left concerning them, once it is said that they arc working in a supervisory capacity.
From what was said by the Supreme Court as mentioned above, it is clear that any dispute with regard to the terms of employment, etc., of employees drawing wages m excess of Rs. 900 per month and whose duties are supervisory in character and, therefore, not workmen cannot be an industrial dispute and it can neither be raised by them who are workmen, on the ground that it is their next promotion cadre and, therefore, they are directly and vitally interested in the dispute.
11. The Greaves Cotton's case elicited the following observation from the learned Judge :
What the Supreme Court said in this decision is that what has to be seen is whether, on the date of the reference there was any dispute in respect of the workmen which can be referred to the Tubunal under the Industrial Disputes Act. The Tribunal has jurisdiction to consider revision of wage scale, dearness allowance and other emoluments so long as there is a category of workmen who are employed in the supervisory capacity and drawing less than Rs. 500 per month. Even where such workmen in a supervisory capacity ask for a pay structure which takes them beyond Rs. 500 that by itself does not preclude the Tribunal from 'determining what is the proper wage structure for that class or category of workmen. Where, however, there are none falling within the definition of 'workman' because all of them receive wages in excess of Rs. 500 either during the pendency of the adjudication or at the time of adjudication, the Tribunal cannot be called upon to prescribe wage structure for non-existing workmen nor will it have jurisdiction to do so, and in this sense the dispute must be deemed to have lapsed. Thus, this decision also supports the contention of the Andhra Bank rather than goes against it.
Ramachandra Raju, J,, then concluded :
As already mentioned above, the dispute raised regarding the fitment to Grade III officers whose duties are supervisory in character and who draw towards their wages more than Rs. 500 per month even from the start in that category cannot be an industrial dispute because it relates to non-workmen out and, therefore, outside the scope of the Industrial Disputes Act.
This view fully supports the argument of learned Counsel for the Bank, but with the utmost respect to Ramachandra Raju, J., I cannot agree either with the conclusion arrived at by him or his interpretation of the dicta of their Lordships of the Supreme Court in the Reserve bank's case and the Greaves Cotton's case. In this connection, it may be pointed out that in the Reserve bank's case their Lordships indicated in categorical terms that the conditions of service of persons who had never been workmen could form the subject-matter of an industrial dispute and that all that was required in that behalf was that the workmen raising the dispute should have in it a direct and substantial interest That is why, they held that the National Tribunal was in error 'in not considering the claims of Class II employees whether at the instance of members drawing less than Rs. 500 as wages or....'. They further made it clear that they them' selves would have been required 'to consider the scales applicable to those in Class II but for the fact that the Reserve Bank has fixed scales which are admittedly to be quite generous''. In other words, the sole reason why their Lordships did not enter upon a consideration of the pay scale of Class II employees was that the Reserve Bank itself had raised those scales to a level which was considered more than just even by the workmen. Besides, the dictum of their Lordships that 'Class II employees of the Reserve Bank can only be deprived of the benefits if they were non-workmen at the time they seek the protection of the Industrial Disputes Act' cannot be construed to mean anything more or less than what it says, that is, that Class II employees cannot themselves invoke the provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act after they have ceased to be workmen. To say that what their Lordships meant by this dictum was that a person who is a 'non-workman out and out' cannot fall within the ambit of the expression 'any person and that on that account a dispute concerning his conditions of service cannot be regarded as an industrial dispute is to give their Lordships' judgment a meaning which is contrary to what they have actually held.
12. In the Greaves Cotton's case the dispute before the Industrial Tribunal was between Greaves Cotton and Company Limited and those of its employees who were holding the position of supervisors. On behalf of the latter, who were the appellants before their Lordships of the Supreme Court, the following five contentions were raised :
First, whether the case of supervisors was at all remanded to the Tribunal for adjudication by the Supreme Court : Secondly, whether it was open to the respondents to agitate when the matter was remanded to the Tribunal, for the first time to challenge the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, to fix wage scale and dearness allowance of the Supervisors : Thirdly, whether supervisors getting less than Rs. 500 per month on the crucial date, namely, the date of reference can rais a dispute regarding wages which take beyond Rs. 500 Fourthly, whether workmen can raise a dispute about non-workmen, as regards terms of employment of non-workmen and in what circumstances; Fifthly whether the Tribunal on remand is right in holding that in December, 1964, none of the supervisors were drawing less than Rs. 500.
Their Lordships discussed at length the observations made by them in the Reserve Bank case and then held :
It would, therefore, appear that the consistent view of this Court is that non-workmen as well as workmen can raise a dispute in respect of matters affecting their employment, conditions of service, etc., where they have a community of interests, provided they are direct and are not remote.
Clearly what was meant by these observations was that the conditions of service of both workmen and non-workmen can be 'he subject-matter of an industrial dispute, but then for a dispute to have that status, when it relates to conditions of service of non-workmen, the workmen invoking the provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act must have a community of interest with the non-workmen. After affirming this principle and answering contentions thirdly and fourthly in the affirmative, however, their Lordships refused to consider the pay-scales of the supervisors on the sole ground that there were no employees belonging to that class who were drawing less than Rs. 500 that, therefore, none of the supervisors who had raised the dispute could be classified as a workman and that thus the dispute lapsed because it ceased to be a dispute between the employer and the workmen. That this was so is made clear in the following observations by their Lordships :
But the question is, if there are none at all and all of them have become non-workmen either during the pendency or at the time of adjudication, does the dispute survive ?. In other words does the dispute remain a dispute between employers and workmen within the meaning of Section 2(k) of the Act? These questions arise out of the fifth contention urged before us by the learned advocate for the respondents, namely, whether in fact there are now any supervisors working in any of the companies because as the learned advocate for the respondents contends, if there are none and they are all non. workmen, the dispute lapses and at any rate the fixation of a wage scale for non-existing workmen would be an exercise in futility.
These observations do not in any manner impinge on the principle laid down in the Reserve Bank's case and followed in the Greaves Cotton's case that if workmen have an interest in the conditions of service, etc., of non-workmen, which interest is direct and substantial, such conditions of service can form the subject-matter of an industrial dispute raised by workmen.
13. The conclusion arrived at by Ramachandra Raju. J , having been based on a misunderstanding of the dicta in the two Supreme Court cases just above discussed, it does not, in my opinion, lay down good law.
14. For the reasons stated the petition fails and is dismissed but with no order as to coats.