Read Order: Bata India Limited vs. Workmen of Bata India Limited & Another 

Pankaj Bajpai

New Delhi, March 30, 2022: While hearing a matter relating to the workmen being entitled to full back wages who resorted to stay-in-strike and refused payment of pro-rata wages decided by Bata India Limited (appellant) for those not meeting the mutually agreed target, the Supreme Court has directed the appellant to make payment of the reduced/deducted wages to its workmen within one month.

A Division Bench of Justice Ajay Rastogi and Justice Sanjiv Khanna observed that the judgment given by the High Court that pro rata deduction/reduction in wages is permissible if there is a deliberate attempt to not produce or do work by resorting to “go slow” strategy, protects the interest of the appellant and the workmen by prescribing the right procedure which should be followed in case the appellant is of the opinion that the workmen, though present on duty, are not working and are not giving the agreed production on the basis of which wages and incentives have been fixed. 

However, this would depend upon the factual matrix and have to be ascertained in case of dispute to render any firm opinion and the procedure prescribed should be followed, added the Bench. 

The background of the case, Bata India Limited (appellant) and Workmen of Bata India Limited (first respondent), an association of the appellant’s employees, had entered into the settlements, whereby, the workmen had agreed to produce a minimum of 1,200 pairs of shoes per shift. The norm for calculation of incentive on production was fixed at 12,960 pairs of shoes per week. It is a case of the appellant that after Feb 01, 2001, workmen had deliberately adopted “go slow” tactics and did not produce the minimum agreed production as per the settlement. The production was below 50 per cent of the normal production. Despite repeated requests and warnings, the workmen did not pay any heed to increase production. Consequently, the appellant decided to pay pro-rata wages to those not meeting the mutually agreed target. However, the workmen refused payment and resorted to stay-in-strike. Apprehending danger to safety, the management declared lockout, which was later, lifted. 

The industrial dispute pertaining to justification of the lockout, strike of the workmen and “go slow” strategy on the part of the workmen was referred by the Government before the Industrial Tribunal, Bangalore. Despite referral, the dispute escalated as the strike continued for a long time resulting in prohibitory order by the Government over the continuance of the strike. By another order, the Government invoked power u/s 10B(2) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, whereby the workmen were directed to report for duty. Following the order, the workmen resumed work from February 12, 2001. 

Later, the Karnataka High Court held that “go slow” is nothing but sort of intentional refusal to work. In such a situation, the management could be justified in reducing or paying pro-rata wages. The mere presence of the employee at work without the workmen contributing and doing work would not entitle them to wages. The judgment also records that the authorities could not decide the issue u/s 33-C(1)4 of the Act as the amounts could not be determined with certainty.  

After considering the submissions, the Top Court refused to accept the contention of the appellant that the finding in the High Court’s judgment pertaining to “go slow” strategy nothing sort of misconduct should be set aside. 

The High Court’s judgment does not hold that any inquiry should have been conducted by the appellant, but rather, taking holistic and pragmatic view, it is stated that a fair opportunity shall be granted to the Union or workmen, especially when there was a dispute whether or not there was production on the agreed terms, added the Top Court. 

Further, the Apex Court noted that the observations of High Court as to misconduct have been made in different context to hold that the “go slow” work was similar to or like intentional refusal of work. 

However, what is highlighted by the appellant before us is the failure of the Division Bench to take notice of the public notices which were put on the notice board to justify the pro rata reduction of wages. The notices are in the form of calculation of the wages actually paid. The workers were not given any opportunity to respond to these notices. Thus, on this aspect, we do not see any reason to disagree with the findings in the impugned judgment”, added the Apex Court.

Accordingly, the Top Court modified the direction given in the judgment of the High Court giving liberty to the appellant to take appropriate steps/actions regarding the “go slow” strategy for the period in question.

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