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Unfair Labour Practice Charge Not At Face Value: SC

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"Unfair labour practices" alleged by workers cannot be routinely taken on face value, the Supreme Court has ruled, stating that they must be interpreted in the context of globalisation and modern industrialisation.

A bench of justices D K Jain and A K Ganguly, in a judgement, said the argument of unfair practices can be accepted only if there is "arbitrariness and unreasonableness" in the management's action violating Article 14 (equality) of the Constitution.

"Any unfair labour practice within its very concept must have some elements of arbitrariness and unreasonableness and if unfair labour practice is established, the same would bring about a violation of guarantee under Article 14 of the Constitution."

The court said, "It is also to be kept in mind that in the changed economic scenario, the concept of unfair labour practice is also required to be understood in the changed context."

"Today every state, which has to don the mantle of a welfare state, must keep in mind the twin objectives of industrial peace and economic justice and the courts and statutory bodies while deciding what unfair labour practice is must also be cognisant of the aforesaid twin objects," Justice Ganguly, writing the judgement, said.

The apex court upheld an appeal of Siemens Ltd challenging the concurrent findings of the labour court and the Bombay High Court which had quashed the company's decision to create a cadre of Junior Executive Officers, to be filled from among the company's workmen.

It was the case of the workmen under the Siemens Employees Union that the promotional scheme amounted to unfair labour practices as defined under Section 9A of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947; and sections 9 and 10 of the Maharashtra Recognition of Trade Unions and Prevention of Unfair Labour Practices Act, 1971.

Rejecting the workers' plea, the apex court said in the present case the workers had overwhelmingly applied for the promotional scheme and there was no question of victimisation as alleged.

"In the instant case no allegation of victimisation has been made by the respondent-union in its complaint. In the absence of any allegation of victimisation it is rather difficult to find out a case of unfair labour practice against the management in the context of the allegations in the complaint.

"So in the instant case if by way of rearrangement of work, the management of the appellant-company gives promotional opportunity to the existing worker that does not bring about any violation of clause 7 of the said settlement rather such a rearrangement of work will be in terms of clause 12," the bench said.

According to the apex court, if the job of executive officers are the same as is done by the existing worker, that does not bring about such a violation of clause 7 as to constitute unfair labour practice.

"The Labour Court and the High Court must consider the said agreement reasonably and harmoniously keeping in mind the vast changes in economic and industrial scenario and the new challenges which the appellant-company has to face in the matter of reorganising work in order to keep pace with the changed work culture in the context of scientific and technological development," the apex court said.

The bench said it was not that the management was punishing any workmen in any manner by introducing the promotion scheme to which the workers overwhelmingly responded.

"It may be that the number of workmen is reduced to some extent pursuant to a promotional scheme to which the workmen readily responded. But no union can insist that all the workmen must remain workmen perpetually otherwise it would be an unfair labour practice," Justice Ganguly added.