Chandigarh, April 20, 2022: While considering a petition by Dainik Bhaskar Corporation Limited (employer-petitioner) against the order of the Appropriate Government referring the dispute of around 55 employees of the petitioner regarding payment of their wages to the Appropriate Authority (Labour Court), the Punjab and Haryana High Court has held that in terms of clear provisions of Section 17 of Working Journalists and Other Newspaper Employees (Conditions of Service) and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1955, there is no need of issuing a notice to the employer while the matter is referred to the Labour Court to decide on a ‘question’ of amount (wages) due.
The Bench of Justice Rajbir Sehrawat held, “(…) sub Section (2) of Section 17 of the Act does not require any notice to the employer before making a reference to the Adjudicatory Mechanism… the employer does not come into picture, at all, till the reference is made by the government to the Adjudicatory Mechanism… While the employer has a right to be heard for determination of the question, it cannot claim any hearing as such before making of the reference by the appropriate government under sub Section (2) of Section 17 of the Act.”
The brief facts, as involved in the present case, were that the petitioner was a company running newspaper ‘Dainik Bhaskar’ from multiple locations. Several employees (respondent fourth to fifty nine) had a dispute regarding the payment of their wages, as a result of which these employees approached the appropriate government (first two respondents) who, after recording a finding to the effect that there was a dispute regarding payment of wages, referred the matter to the Labour Court for adjudication upon the dispute and for determination of the right of the respective parties.
Challenging the said reference, the present petition seeking issuance of the Writ of Certiorari was filed.
The solitary argument raised by counsel for the petitioner was that the appropriate government sent a notice regarding the dispute of only 33 employees, whereas, the reference was made qua 55 employees. Therefore, the Counsel rgued that the reference made by the appropriate government was in violation of the procedure prescribed under the Act.
From the side of the State it was submitted via an affidavit that the claim of 56 employees was received, however, since the claimed amount was not paid by the petitioner, therefore, in the opinion of the government, there existed a dispute. Since, the dispute required adjudication by the adjudicatory body as required under Section 17 (2) of the above said Act, therefore, the matter was rightly referred to the Labour Court for proper adjudication and decision.
From the above affidavit, the Court inferred, at the very outset that so far as the State Government was concerned, it received the claim of 56 employees who raised a dispute regarding non-payment of their wages, and finding substance in the claim of the employees, the matter qua 56 employees was referred.
Further, the Court made reference to Section 17 of the Act which provides that if a newspaper employee is not paid his wages, he can approach the State Government, which on being satisfied will direct the collector to collect the money from the employer. However, if the appropriate government is of the opinion that the amount is not a determined amount or there is any question regarding the said amount, the said aspect is required to be referred to an Adjudicatory Mechanism, as required under sub Section (2) of Section 17 of the Act.
In the present case, the Court found that the action of the State Government in referring the matter to the Labour Court was within the bounds of Section 17 of the Act.
The main argument of counsel for the petitioner was that the reference was made without giving any notice to the petitioner-employer and that unless the intention of the petitioner was known, it could not be said that there was any dispute which could be referred to the Adjudicatory Mechanism.
Addressing this argument, the Court opined that this (having a dispute) is not the import of sub Section (2) of Section 17 of the Act, as this provision uses the word ‘question’ which may arise as to the amount rather than using the word ‘dispute’. Also, on the issue of issuance of a notice, the Court opined that sub Section (2) of Section 17 of the Act does not require any notice to the employer before making a reference to the Adjudicatory Mechanism.
In this regard, the Court differentiated the procedure prescribed under this Act and under the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. The Court observed that while under the Industrial Disputes Act, the conciliatory procedure mandates giving of notice and granting an opportunity of hearing to the employer to reconcile the matter and to determine whether there exists any dispute or not, but under Section 17 of the Act, such conciliatory procedure is not contemplated.
It was further added that the provision Section 17 casts a duty upon the government to, firstly effect recovery of the amounts, if the amounts are already determined and if the amounts are not clear and the employee has approached the government qua non satisfaction of his claim qua the wages amount, then government has to refer the dispute to the Adjudicatory Mechanism. Justice Sehrawat also added that the government can refer the question of amount to the Adjudicatory Mechanism suo moto, even without application from any employee.
In view of this legal conspectus, the Court remarked the employer does not come into picture, at all, till the reference is made by the government to the Adjudicatory Mechanism. The Court also stated that the Adjudicatory Mechanism is intended to ensure only to provide an opportunity of hearing to the employer qua the question of claim raised by the employee, and thus while the employer has a right to be heard for determination of the question, it cannot claim any hearing as such before making of the reference by the appropriate government under sub Section (2) of Section 17 of the Act.
Thus, the petition was dismissed.