Read Judgment: M/s. Oil And Natural Gas Corporation Ltd. V. The President, Oil Field Employees Association & Ors. 

Pankaj Bajpai

New Delhi, February 9, 2022: While highlighting that settlement arrived at between ONGC and the Unions representing majority of the contractors’ workmen was not binding on all similar workmen including those represented by the Unions, the Supreme Court has opined that the engagement of workmen by the contractors cannot be the sole basis for determining the status of workmen, since they were employed by contractors and not by ONGC.

A Division Bench of Justice L. Nageswara Rao and Justice Aniruddha Bose therefore accepted the High Court’s affirmation of Tribunal’s finding that the settlement did not bind the workmen whose cause the respondent Unions are espousing. 

The finding of the Tribunal that the settlement involving implementation of the FWP was not just and fair, which finding has been sustained by the High Court is essentially a finding on facts based on appreciation of evidence, added the Bench. 

The observation came pursuant to an appeal by ONGC (Appellants), a public sector undertaking engaged in the business of exploration and production of oil and gas, challenging the judgment whereby the Bombay High Court had upheld the award passed by the Central Government Industrial Tribunal giving entitlement to the claims of workmen to fixation of pay and other allowances, with certain modification in the implementation part of that award. 

The controversy involved in this proceeding originates from a Direct Action notice raised by a Union (Oil Field Employees Association represented by their President – first Respondent). The workmen, whose cause the said Union were espousing, were engaged by and getting their salaries paid through different contractors appointed by the ONGC, whose stand all along had been that these were contractors’ workmen – and not workmen of ONGC. In fact, ONGC’s case was that another settlement had been reached with the Unions representing majority of the contractors’ workmen and that the settlement arrived was binding on all similar workmen including those represented by the respondent Unions. 

The settlement, according to the appellants, was in terms of Section 12(3) r/w/s 18(3)(d) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 and entailed upward revision of wages as also certain other measures of social protection including job security. 

The Tribunal and the High Court, however, held that the said arrangement was not settlement within the meaning of Section 18(3)(d) of the Act and was not binding on the workmen involved in the subject dispute. The Tribunal in substance allowed the claim of the workmen articulated through the Unions. The High Court also sustained the award in the writ petition brought by ONGC on substantive issues but partly allowed the petition challenging the legality thereof. 

After considering the submissions, the Top Court found that the main claim of the workmen was for having a uniform policy for all workmen, irrespective of contracts under which they were engaged in the matter of wages and allowances. 

In the instant case, the settlement is not the one which would be binding on the minority Union, as that was a settlement essentially between the contractors and workmen engaged by the former and the appellants were only consenting parties to the settlement, added the Court. 

Speaking for the Bench, Justice Bose noted that the dispute out of which the present appeal arises relates to the question as to whether the workmen engaged by the contractors would be entitled to pay at par with other workmen of the employer and demand to that effect was raised with the appellants only. 

The respondent Unions claimed to be, in reality, employees of ONGC and the demand was raised upon the latter, and not on their contractors, added the Bench. 

Justice Bose thus highlighted that the nature of their demand was different particularly as regards the status of the workmen, i.e., their claim to be workmen of ONGC. 

Accordingly, the Apex Court dismissed the appeal and refused to interfere with the relief directed to be given by the High Court.

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