While various concepts under Indian employment law have achieved some sort of streamlining over the years, one question which has failed to disappear and keeps resurfacing before employment lawyers, both on the advisory and the disputes side is, who is a 'Workman'.

This write-up revisits the definition of Workman with a view to identify certain fundamental elements which may assist in determining which employee can be categorized as a Workman.

First principles

A close look at the definition of Workman under the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 ("ID Act") will reveal that there is a two-step process to establish if an employee can be categorized as a Workman.

The first step (Included Persons)-

is to identify whether the employee is employed in an industry to do any manual, unskilled, skilled, technical, operational, clerical or supervisory work for hire or reward, whether the terms of his employment are expressed or implied.

The second step (Excluded Persons)-

is to identify whether the said employee:

  1. is subject to the Air Force Act, or the Army Act, 1950 or the Navy Act, 1957; or
  2. is employed in the police service or as an officer or other employee of a prison; or
  3. is employed mainly in a managerial or administrative capacity; or
  4. is employed in a supervisory capacity and draws wages exceeding INR 10,000/- per mensem, or exercises functions mainly of a managerial nature.

Basis the above exercise, an employee who is employed to do any of the types of work enumerated in the first step, and can also be excluded from all the categories in the second step, can be called a Workman.

Accordingly, the position in law as it stands today for an employee to be considered as a Workman under the ID

Act1 is that- (a) he must be employed in any of the specified categories, namely manual, unskilled, skilled, technical, operational, clerical, or supervisory roles; and (b) merely not falling in any of the four categories in the second step will not suffice2.

Lifting the veil

While the above appears to be simple process, particularly in situations where employees carry out roles as mentioned under the first step, issues of classification arise where employees discharge multiple roles in their organizations.

If the nature of duties discharged by the employee is multifarious, then the question that would arise for consideration is, which of them is his principal duty and which are the ancillary duties. While determining this question, it is the types of duties assigned to, or discharged by the employee, that are relevant and not the designation of the post held by him. To elucidate further, if the main work of the employee is of manual, clerical or of technical nature, the mere fact that some supervisory or other work is also done by the said employee incidentally will be of no consequence, and the employee will be considered as a Workman3.

In conclusion, while it is true that courts in India have had to rely on the rhetoric of "case-to-case basis" and "no straight-jacket formula" whenever a classification has become a disputed question of fact, the basic elements identified above can certainly serve as a starting point to form a view.

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.