THE PUNJAB government has been fined Rs 5 lakh by the Punjab and Haryana High Court for “the deliberate failure and insensitivity of its functionaries in the labour department to do justice according to law” in an industrial dispute case of 2012. An assistant labour commissioner in Mohali had declined to accept a demand notice of 73 workmen of a pharmaceutical company who had various disputes with the management after their mass transfer to Madhya Pradesh.
Major disputes over salary, annual increment, designation and benefits of leave had arisen between the employees and Mohali-based Ranbaxy Laboratory Limited after their transfer to Dewas in MP. The employees had approached the labour department in Mohali where the official, instead of referring the case to the Labour Court or the Industrial Court, rejected the demand notice, saying it could be submitted only by a registered union of workmen and the company employees, after their transfer, were working in Dewas. So, the case could not be filed in his office for want of jurisdiction. Justice Rajiv Narian Raina, while rapping the official in the judgment, observed that an appropriate government, an officer before whom a reference was made by complainants, was virtually a rubber stamp and a forwarding agent of the disputes to the Labour Court or the Industrial Tribunal.
“The assistant labour commissioner has apparently misdirected himself in resorting to the provisions of the Punjab Industrial Disputes Rules, 1958…,” the judgment read. “The assistant labour commissioner does not seem to know that the Industrial disputes Act does not require a registered trade union in existence before industrial dispute is raised. A substantial body of workmen can raise an industrial dispute,” said Justice Raina while rejecting the official’s refusal to refer to the dispute as “erroneous”. On the official’s second reasoning that the case did not fall within his jurisdiction, the High Court ruled that the issue turned into an actionable dispute in Mohali.”
”If the reasoning of the assistant labour commissioner is accepted, it would mean that an employer can always whimsically transfer workers en masse to another of its establishments outside the territory and to a different state and fizzle out the workmen’s demands and expect them to approach the appropriate government in Madhya Pradesh for a resolution of the dispute to be adjudicated there. The approach of the assistant labour commissioner is wholly illegal and has to be deprecated”, said the HC. The HC observed that the officer did not seem to know even the principles of labour law and his action derailed the matter for five years,”
“The assistant labour commissioner, instead of passing the order, should have sent the parties to the conciliation officer to attempt an amicable settlement, but that was not done. The assistant labour commissioner seems to be in a tearing hurry to close the case without even hearing the partie”,”the judgment read, adding that the officer, instead of finding a solution to the dispute, ha” “fired it with discontent among a large body of the workforce” and deprived over 70 workers of their right to access to court. The cost of Rs 5 lakh imposed on the state of Punjab, according to the court order, has to be paid to the workmen. “The appropriate government is directed to reconsider its decision in the light of this order and make a reference to the area Labour Court/Industrial Tribunal within eight weeks…,” said the HC order.