In the Supreme Court of India (1985) 3 SCC 371 , 1985 AIR 985 , 1985 SCR Supl. (1) 282 Petitioner Arkal Govind Raj Rao Respondent Ciba Geigy of India Ltd. Date of Judgement 6th May 1985 Bench Justice D.A. Desai; Justice V. Balakrishna Eradi; Justice V. Khalid
The legislation for the upliftment of the interests of labor, technically ‘Workmen’ and for the resolution of Industrial Disputes before the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 was the Trade Disputes Act, 1929. It was removed because of the loopholes it had and its failure to reach the objective desired subsequently leading it to be amended and the new Act of Industrial Disputes Act came into the picture. The foundation of the jurisdiction under the Act is the determination of the fact whether an employee is a ‘Workman’ as per the meaning mentioned in the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. Inevitably, the present legislation too is vulnerable to being misused by the employers to their advantage and cases like the following sets a precedent in giving interpretation or a clear understanding to the meaning of what falls under the definition of workmen under the Section 2(s) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.
The appellant, Arkal Govind Raj Rao, joined as a stenographer-cum-accountant in the respondent company on January 18, 1956.In January 1966, he got promoted as an assistant, after which in October 1972 company terminated his services contending that he was not a workman under the meaning of Section 2(s) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. This led to an industrial dispute being raised, which was then referred to the Labour Court at Bombay by the Deputy Commissioner Labour (Administration), Bombay.
Laws and Statutory Provisions Concerned:
Section 2(s) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947
Whether an assistant mainly performing clerical work comes within the meaning of ‘Workmen’ under Section 2(s) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947?
Procedural History :
After various objections and evidence laid down by the parties, the labor court came to the conclusion that the appellant is not a workman as per section 2-s of the Industrial Disputes Act,1947 but an officer of the Covenanted Contractual Staff Cadre because he was not just doing clerical work but also supervisory and administrative work and other work of checking bank reconciliation, etc. The appellant then filed a writ petition in the Bombay High Court but it was dismissed in the initial stages itself after which the appellant filed this case through a special leave petition.
Some observations made by the Labour Court that lead to the decision against the appellant:
- Summarising the evidence of the sub-manager of the finance department, Sitaram, the Court came to the conclusion that the duties of the appellant were more or less clerical in nature and it can be said that they were rather done by a more experienced and efficient clerk.
- Taking cognizance of the fact that after promotion as an assistant in 1966, he was made a group leader in a task where his duties changed to primarily doing supervisory work, though he had to continue with his work as usual.
- The court also recognized the fact that the appellant had been preparing bank reconciliation statements for the respondent company, a work that requires creativity, imagination, and application of mind and person doing it cannot be designated as a workman. In coming to the conclusion, the Court referred to the judgment of Kirloskar Brothers Ltd v. Labour Court, where it was held that making budgetary statements requires creativeness.
- The labor court also gathered from various evidence that the appellant was engaged in supervisory and administrative work such as putting up an indent of printing stationery and asked three of his colleagues to tell him their requirements.
- It was contended before the labor court that there is a significant difference between the salaries of an assistant and a clerk; the difference leading the court to infer that an assistant(appellant) can be regarded as an officer.
The appeal before this Court succeeds and the judgment is delivered in favor of the appellant. The order of both the Labour Court and the high court is set aside and the respondent company is ordered to pay the salary that the appellant would have normally drawn for the last six months and to pay him an amount of 3000 rupees. The reasons that lead the court to decide that the appellant’s duties were clerical in nature are listed below:
Ratio Decidendi :
- When an employee does more than just one duty and the question of whether the employee is a workman or not; his primary and basic duties must be taken into consideration and the additional duties cannot change the status and character of the person concerned. In short, the dominant purpose of employment should be reflected upon.
- In his capacity as a group leader, the appellant not only did his work but also supervised the other two teammates. This does not lead to coming to the conclusion that his duties changed from primarily doing clerical work to supervisory work and the Labour Court was wrong in drawing such an inference. While he was performing his primarily clerical duties, along with which he incidentally supervised the work of his other two teammates.
- The fact that the Labour Court described making bank reconciliation statements a work that requires creativity and application of mind just depicts a lack of understanding of what constitutes bank reconciliation statements. The court held that making a bank reconciliation statement is the most mechanical clerical work to do and it was totally erroneous to come to the conclusion that the Labour Court came to.
- With respect to the administrative work like putting up an indent for printed stationery, it hardly makes any difference in the status and character of the employee. The work can neither said to be managerial nor supervisory because it was as much a part of his clerical duty to ask other clerks of their requirements and send it back to the authority as were the regular duties.
- As far as the difference in salary of an assistant and clerk is concerned, it’s hardly any. The court fails to appreciate how that difference can lead to calling an assistant an officer of a Covenant Rank in Staff. Leading to the point that the court noted that the word covenanted has an Imperial Nature such as covenanted civil service and such words were flattering only in the time of British rule. Now they are used only to inflate the ego of the employer and to evade application of the concerned Act.
- The court finished by referring to the judgments of S.K. Verma v. Mahesh Chandra and Anr., where it was held that even though the duties of a developmental officer was to recruit agents and supervise their work, yet his duties were primarily clerical and that this case is much stronger than that of a developmental officer; and the judgment of Ved Prakash Gupta v. Delton Cable India(P) Ltd., where it was taken note that the work of the appellant consisted of looking after the security of the factory and its property by deputing the watchman to perform certain duties and that does not lead to his work being managerial or supervisory.
The case redefined the word Workmen as per Section 2(s) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, and stressed on the fact that it is the nature of the duties being primarily done by the person that determines whether he is a workman or not. The use of the same by the employers to use it to their advantage by attaching other trivialities to the primary work of the workman to try escaping the application of the concerned Act is something that this case tries to put an end to by setting a precedent itself.
“The views of the authors are personal“
 Kirloskar Brothers Ltd v. Labour Court, (1976) Lab IC 918, ILR 1976 (1) Delhi 565.
 S.K. Verma v. Mahesh Chandra and Anr., (1983) 4 SCC 214, 1983 (3) SCR 799.
 Ved Prakash Gupta v. Delton Cable India(P) Ltd., 1984 (2) SCC 569.