India: Right to Strike Under Industrial Dispute Act, 1947

Last Updated: 9 March 2004
Article by Vijendra Vikram singh Paul

Introduction

Every right comes with its own duties. Most powerful rights have more duties attached to them. Today, in each country of globe whether it is democratic, capitalist, socialist, give right to strike to the workers. But this right must be the weapon of last resort because if this right is misused, it will create a problem in the production and financial profit of the industry. This would ultimately affect the economy of the country. Today, most of the countries, especially India, are dependent upon foreign investment and under these circumstances it is necessary that countries who seeks foreign investment must keep some safeguard in there respective industrial laws so that there will be no misuse of right of strike. In India, right to protest is a fundamental right under Article 19 of the Constitution of India. But right to strike is not a fundamental right but a legal right and with this right statutory restriction is attached in the industrial dispute Act, 1947.

Position in India

In India, unlike America, right to strike is not expressly recognized by the law. The trade union Act, 1926 for the first time provided limited right to strike by legalizing certain activities of a registered trade union in furtherance of a trade dispute which otherwise breach of common economic law.1 Now days a right to strike is recognized only to limited extent permissible under the limits laid down by the law itself, as a legitimate weapon of Trade Unions.

The right to strike in the Indian constitution set up is not absolute right but it flow from the fundamental right to form union.2 As every other fundamental right is subject to reasonable restrictions, the same is also the case to form trade unions to give a call to the workers to go on strike and the state can impose reasonable restrictions. In the All India Bank Employees Association v. I. T.3, the Supreme Court held,

"the right to strike or right to declare lock out may be controlled or restricted by appropriate industrial legislation and the validity of such legislation would have to be tested not with reference to the criteria laid down in clause (4) of article 19 but by totally different considerations."

Thus, there is a guaranteed fundamental right to form association or Labour unions but there is no fundamental right to go on strike.4 Under the Industrial Dispute Act, 1947 the ground and condition are laid down for the legal strike and if those provisions and conditions are not fulfilled then the strike will be illegal.

Provision of valid strike under the Industrial Dispute Act, 1947-

Section 2(q) of said Act defines the term strike, it says, "strike" means a cassation of work by a body of persons employed in any industry acting in combination, or a concerted refusal, or a refusal, under a common understanding of any number of persons who are or have been so employed to continue to work or accept employment. Whenever employees want to go on strike they have to follow the procedure provided by the Act otherwise there strike deemed to be an illegal strike. Section 22(1) of the industrial

Dispute Act, 1947 put certain prohibitions on the right to strike. It provides that no person employed in public utility service shall go on strike in breach of contract:

  1. Without giving to employer notice of strike with in six weeks before striking; or
  2. Within fourteen days of giving such notice; or
  3. Before the expiry of the date of strike specified in any such notice as aforesaid; or
  4. During the pendency of any conciliation proceedings before a conciliation officer and seven days after the conclusion of such proceedings.

It is to be noted that these provisions do not prohibit the workmen from going on strike but require them to fulfill the condition before going on strike. Further these provisions apply to a public utility service only. The Industrial Dispute Act, 1947 does not specifically mention as to who goes on strike. However, the definition of strike itself suggests that the strikers must be persons, employed in any industry to do work.

Notice of strike

Notice to strike within six weeks before striking is not necessary where there is already lockout in existence. In mineral Miner Union vs. Kudremukh5 Iron Ore Co. Ltd., it was held that the provisions of section 22 are mandatory and the date on which the workmen proposed to go on strike should be specified in the notice. If meanwhile the date of strike specified in the notice of strike expires, workmen have to give fresh notice. It may be noted that if a lock out is already in existence and employees want to resort to strike, it is not necessary to give notice as is otherwise required. In Sadual textile Mills v. Their workmen6 certain workmen struck work as a protest against the lay-off and the transfer of some workmen from one shift to another without giving four days notice as required by standing order 23. On these grounds a question arose whether the strike was justified. The industrial tribunal answered in affirmative. Against this a writ petition was preferred in the High Court of Rajasthen. Reversing the decision of the Tribunal Justice Wanchoo observed:

"…We are of opinion that what is generally known as a lightning strike like this take place without notice…. And each worker striking ….(is) guilty of misconduct under the standing orders …and liable to be summarily dismissed…(as)… the strike cannot be justified at all. "

General prohibition of strike-

The provisions of section 23 are general in nature. It imposes general restrications on declaring strike in breach of contract in the both public as well as non- public utility services in the following circumstances mainly: -

  1. During the pendency of conciliation proceedings before a board and till the expiry of 7 days after the conclusion of such proceedings;
  2. During the pendency and 2 month’s after the conclusion of proceedings before a Labour court, Tribunal or National Tribunal;
  3. During the pendency and 2 months after the conclusion of arbitrator, when a notification has been issued under sub- section 3 (a) of section 10 A;
  4. During any period in which a settlement or award is in operation in respect of any of the matter covered by the settlement or award.

The principal object of this section seems to ensure a peaceful atmosphere to enable a conciliation or adjudication or arbitration proceeding to go on smoothly. This section because of its general nature of prohibition covers all strikes irrespective of the subject matter of the dispute pending before the authorities. It is noteworthy that a conciliation proceedings before a conciliation officer is no bar to strike under section 23.

In the Ballarpur Collieries Co. v. H. Merchant7 it was held that where in a pending reference neither the employer nor the workmen were taking any part, it was held that section 23 has no application to the strike declared during the pendency of such reference.

Illegal Strike-

Section 24 provides that a strike in contravention of section 22 and 23 is illegal. This section is reproduced below:

  1. A strike or a lockout shall be illegal if,
    1. It is commenced or declared in contravention of section 22 or section 23; or
    2. It is continued on contravention of an order made under sub section (3) of section 10 or sub section (4-A) of section 10-A.
  2. Where a strike or lockout in pursuance of an industrial dispute has already commenced and is in existence all the time of the reference of the dispute to a board, an arbitrator, a Labour court, Tribunal or National Tribunal, the continuance of such strike or lockout shall not be deemed to be illegal;, provided that such strike or lockout was not at its commencement in contravention of the provision of this Act or the continuance thereof was not prohibited under sub section (3) of section 10 or sub section (4-A) of 10-A.
  3. A strike declared in the consequence of an illegal lockout shall not be deemed to be illegal.

Consequence of illegal Strike-

Dismissal of workmen-

In M/S Burn & Co. Ltd. V, Their Workmen8, it was laid down that mere participation in the strike would not justify suspension or dismissal of workmen. Where the strike was illegal the Supreme Court held that in case of illegal strike the only question of practical importance would be the quantum or kind of punishment. To decide the quantum of punishment a clear distinction has to be made between violent strikers and peaceful strikers.9

In Punjab National Bank v. Their Employees10, it was held that in the case of strike, the employer might bar the entry of the strikers within the premises by adopting effective and legitimate method in that behalf. He may call upon employees to vacate, and, on their refusal to do so, take due steps to suspend them from employment, proceed to hold proper inquires according to the standing order and pass proper orders against them subject to the relevant provisions of the Act.

Wages-

In Cropton Greaves Ltd. v. Workmen,11 it was held that in order to entitle the workmen to wages for the period of strike, the strike should be legal and justified. A strike is legal if it does not violate any provision of the statute. It cannot be said to be unjustified unless the reasons for it are entirely perverse or unreasonable. Whether particular strike is justified or not is a question of fact, which has to be judged in the light of the fact and circumstances of each case. The use of force, coercion, violence or acts of sabotage resorted to by the workmen during the strike period which was legal and justified would disentitle them to wages for strike period.

The constitutional bench in Syndicate Bank v. K. Umesh Nayak decided the matter, the Supreme Court held that a strike may be illegal if it contravenes the provision of section 22, 23 or 24 of the Act or of any other law or the terms of employment depending upon the facts of each case. Similarly, a strike may be justified or unjustified depending upon several factors such as the service conditions of the workmen, the nature of demands of the workmen, the cause led to strike, the urgency of the cause or demands of the workmen, the reasons for not resorting to the dispute resolving machinery provided by the Act or the contract of employment or the service rules provided for a machinery to resolve the dispute, resort to strike or lock-out as a direct is prima facie unjustified. This is, particularly so when the provisions of the law or the contract or the service rules in that behalf are breached. For then, the action is also illegal.

Right of employer to compensation for loss caused by illegal strike-

In Rothas Industries v. Its Union13, the Supreme Court held that the remedy for illegal strike has to be sought exclusively in section 26 of the Act. The award granting compensation to employer for loss of business though illegal strike is illegal because such compensation is not a dispute within the meaning of section 2(k) of the Act.

Conclusion

The right to strike is not fundamental or absolute right in India in any special and common law, Whether any undertaking is industry or not. This is a conditional or qualified right only available after certain pre-condition are fulfilled. If the constitution maker had intended to confer on the citizen as a fundamental right the right to go on strike, they should have expressly said so. On the basis of the assumption that the right to go on strike has not expressly been conferred under the Article 19(1) (c) of the Constitution. Further his Lordship also referred to the observation in Corpus Juris Secundum14 that the right to strike is a relative right which can be exercised with due regard to the rights of others. Neither the common law nor the fourteenth Amendment to the federal constitution confers an absolute right to strike.15 it was held in the case that the strike as a weapon has to be used sparingly for redressal of urgent and pressing grievances when no means are available or when available means have failed to resolve it. It has to be resorted to, to compel the other party to the dispute to see the justness of the demand. It is not to be utilized to work hardship to the society at large so as to strengthen the bargaining power. Every dispute between an employer and employee has to take into consideration the third dimension, viz. the interest of the society as whole.16 Recently Supreme Court held that if the strike is illegal then the employer have right to take action against the workers or employees who had taken part in the strike.

Footnotes

1. Buckingam and Carnatic Co. Case

2. article 19 of the constitution of India.

3. (1961-62) 21 FJR 63.

4. Kameswar v. State of Bihar, 1962 SCR 369.

5. (1989) 1 Lab LJ 227 (Karn).

6. (1958) 2 L.L.J. 628 Rajasthen.

7. (1967) 2 LLJ 201 Pat.

8. AIR 1959 SC 529.

9. Indian General Navigation and Railway Co. Ltd. V. Their Workmen, AIR 1960SC 219.

10. AIR 1960 SC 160.

11. (1978)3 SCC 155.

12. AIR 1994 SC 319.

13. AIR 1976 SC 425.

14. Coupus Juris Secundum, vol. 83 p.525.

15. S. Vasudevan and Others v. S.D. Mital, AIR 1962 Bom. 53.

16. Syndicate Bank v. K. Umesh Nayak, AIR 1994 SC319.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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