Through this paper, the author aims to look at the various issues that plague the labour courts, leading to pendency of cases for many years and causing losses in crores to the Indian economy, due to strikes and other failed mechanisms of disrupting work as a result of these disputes. Further, the various methods that are open to the judiciary to consider and implement to reduce the congestion in courts are also given. The author will use a doctrinal system of analysis, using reports and articles to analyse the effectiveness of these measures and the lack of manpower in courts. The importance of resolving labour disputes in a timely manner will be stressed upon, considering the industrialised world. The drawbacks of the alternative resolutions will also be mentioned, with suggestions and recommendations for tackling them in an effective manner.
Analysis of the Adjudicatory mechanisms followed by the Labour Courts in India
Author: Abdullah Sherif,
3rd year, Christ University
With the advent of industrial relations in India, a growing amount of problems has also come up. This has led to labour disputes in the Courts, with various legislations providing for the setting up of specialized judicial bodies, such as the Labour courts and industrial tribunals. These bodies have been given great power, which helps in resolving disputes between the aggrieved parties. One main improvement that was thought to have been done was the Lok adalat system, which provided for an alternate forum to the courts.
Keywords: Labour disputes, Adjudication, case backlogs, judicial reform
The role of the judiciary cannot be overplayed in any functioning democracy. In a country which runs on the rule of law, the upholders of the rule of law are those with the real power. This is why the judiciary has often been seen as having vast powers that go beyond it’s mandate of upholding the law. The judiciary also has the role of resolving disputes with various parties.
The impact of judicial pronouncememnts in the field of industrial disputes is a vast problem and can be seen as having a mandate in the role of resolving these disputes which often take a long time to resolve. The uniqueness about indsutrial disputes are that both parties are often a part of the same establishment, as can be seen in the case of the workmen of various industries who have grievances against the management that run these indsutries, which can often cause a complete halt in the production of goods and services, thus rendering the economy of not only the industry, but also the entire country to come to a halt. The effects of prolonging indsutrial disputes in the case of a particular industry itself, can be of grevious harm to the industry, when the production is stopped and long-standing disputes have led to many days of documented loss, with some states like Andhra Pradesh and Kerala having more than 8 lakh man-days lost and overall loss around 4 lakh crore, for the year 2016, for which available data was present.It is plainly evident that the effects of stoppages and strikes across sectors are harmful to the economy.
Defining the Problem
Industrial disputes did not start off with both parties having equal bargaining power. The employer or the industry representatives, often have greater power than the employees that they represent. Thus, in the case of disputes between them, it is seen that the acts also do not provide much recourse, as the field of industrial disputes has widened considerably and now encompasses many fields, such as demand for recognition of union(s) for bargaining purposes, intra-union disputes, demand for abolition of system of contract labour in an establishment and so on. Many Acts and legislations relating to industrial disputes have thus adressed this issue, when referring to Tribunals and other quasi-judicial bodies for resolving those specific disputes.
With all these separate bodies being empowered to look into and resolve disputes, there was the worry that there were too many bodies that would not be capable of regulating all these disputes as they did not have adequate manpower. Then most of the laws, started referring to one main body, set up under the Industrial Disputes Act, as the CGIT or Central Government Industrial Tribunal cum Labour Courts. This allowed for the consolidation of most industrial disputes as under one body, which deals with all the disputes pertaining to industrial relations under one body.
However, the provisions of the labour act can be rather problematic, when seen in the light of Section 10, which allows for the industrial tribunals and national tribunals to adjudicate on matters upon the recommendations of the “appropriate government”. It can be seen that there is an absence of consent of the parties to the dispute, and such adjudication is placed firmly into the hands of the State or Central Government. The issues that can arise then from such an adjudication is that it results in the process of “Juridification”, which implies a process by which the legal intervention produces a tendency to distinguish between lawful and unlawful and attempting to categorise all actions into these two possibilities. When one comes across a grey area where this categorisation becomes difficult, it makes litigation inevitable. Juridification, therefore, becomes firmly entrenched, more manifest in industrial relations, and a never ending process.This definitely contributes to the mindset of the parties that find themselves in court, where an adjudicatory order implies not only a victory for that single labour issue or struggle, but also contributes to the far-reaching consequences of a judicial precedent. That is why juridification must be combated with more resolute and voluntary particpatory mechanisms.
This also leads to the issue of compulsory adjudication, which has been stated by Justice D. A Desai as “The concept of Compulsory adjudication was statutorily ushered in with a view to providing a forum and compelling the parties to resort to the forum for arbitration so as to avoid confrontation and dislocation in industry. The Legislature considered it wise to arm the Government with the power to compel the parties to resort to arbitration with a view to avoid confrontation or trial of strength which are considered wasteful from national and public interest point of view. For assuring uninterrupted production, peace and harmony in industrial relations is necessary.”
One possible solution to the problem of compulsory adjudication is the model of bi-partite adjudication that involves both parties to the dispute. Instead of compulsory adjudication, the court can settle upon another method of enforcement of dispute resolution. Parties would often be reluctant to approach the traditional models of adjudication, with the increased costs offsetting the gains from having access to resolution of the dispute. The courts also have the added benefit of having a lightened load and not being burdened with all the cases that come their way. It is argued that these cases do not need to be approached or resolved with in court because most of the cases, as seen are all relating to one or two – day strikes, without much monetary loss to the company.Traditionally as well, the court process is often seen as taking a long time, and when the functioning of the industries have been stopped, due to the internal disputes within the industry, the adjudicatory process is not of much use. They not only take away financial resources in fighting the court cases, as many of these indutries have to hire specialised firms to handle these cases, they also take away the resources and prolong disputes within the industry, which could have been dealt with in a timely manner.
Thus it is evident that adjudication process has failed the parties in achieving solutions which can actually resolve disputes and have been a hurdle in achieving efficiency in the industrial sector, unlike what was envisaged in the law. This has also been noted in the Labour Commission, which, in the 122ndreport, has commented on the need for uniformity in the field of labour adjudication.The lack of uniformity leads to a much larger issue when looking at the field of adjudication as this also contributes to the backlog of cases in the courts.
The main question would be whether there is a need for alternate measures that can enhance and work towards the resolution of labour disputes. The Lok Adalat system, which was championed by the 10th 5 – Year Plan as an addition to the CGIT, has sadly not gained much momentum on ground. There also exists a limited amount of data on the manner of functioning of the nation-wide Lok Adalat system, but there still exists a large disparity in the proficiency of the system. It so far has not come up as a credible alternative to the functioning of the normal justice delivery system by the courts, even though it is of a less hassle and procedure than that of the traditional system. A study done on the functioning of Lok Adalats in the Eastern India, shows that even with a strong traditional backing for informal and traditional systems of dispute resolution, there has not been a strong push for the mainstreaming of the Lok Adalats in the region. There exists a huge disparity in the number and type of cases that they take up and it mostly seems to take up cases of Criminal Compundable offences and Revenue cases.Labour and industrial disputes often take up much less work and effort in resolving as they are merely a matter of conflicting interests.
Even though the presence of specialised industrial quasi-judicial bodies exist, the cases take a long time appearing before the court and burden the industry in question and the justice system. Therefore, a few suggestions are put forth in order to provide for speedy resolution of these disputes:
1. Most of the cases, as seen before, pertain to only a short-period of time, in cases of strikes and lockouts, and to a small value of damage. They are not likely to be worth the time of the court and vested interests can drag the case on by needlessly appealing before higher authorities. Thus, these type of cases must be kept entirely out of the judicial system, by way of pecuniary jurisdiction of loss caused to the industry and keeping in regard the man-days lost. There must be a cut-off threshold before the cases are accepted to the formal dispute resolution mechanism,otherwise the disputants risk losing more time and money in the process than was lost in the dispute, which will also choke the system with these small cases.
2. A large-scale informal dispute resolution system and mechanism must be in place in order to identify and capture the disputes that arise in industrial relations, especially with employee grievances. While the practise of governments identifying disputes is a welcome move, the parties must also have some level of freedom and autonomy to approach these dispute resolution bodies (hereinafter DRB) at their own comfort. Therefore, like the role of a Conciliation Officer under Section 12 of the Indsutrial Disputes Act, the DRB or an officer appointed for a role similar to that of the Conciliation Officer, should be able to register a complaint or take cognizance of the matter and can encourage the parties to take a formal notice to the DRB. The parties must be put on an equal footing at the DRB, as the union or employee in most cases will be at a weaker bargaining position than the powerful industry or manager. The DRB must also adopt the tri-partite system where the governments, industries and employees all work towards the resolution of the dispute. The unions must also be given greater powers as they will not be able to function if they are constantly under the threat of the industry.
3. The bodies must become more flexible in nature, and cannot categorise all disputes under the legal lens. Getting caught up in procedure will only serve as a failure to the entire DRB, which will then be unable to effectively work towards the resolution of the dispute. But there must be the presence of various experts in the field, as the functioning of the tribunal shows. The pre-adjudication steps must be strengthened, such as that of the Conciliation Officer and the Arbitration clauses, under Section 10A of the Industrial Disputes Act. They must be made into a mandatory clause, with the parties attempting to resolve the dispute on their own, especially in the case of internal disputes. They must be neutral parties that work towards the effective resolution of the dispute.
4. There must be stricter implementation in the functioning of the DRB, and in the willingness of the parties to adhere to the outcomes. The main success that adjudication, and also arbitration has is that the awards can be enforced. Similarly, legal backing must be given to these informal processes as well, with compliance being done at various stages, from District Magistrate signing on the order of arbitration or on the decided outcome, for smaller industries or units and Courts or tribunals appointing ombudsman for larger industries. If an effective implementation and adherence is ensured, it will bring faith in the method of dispute resolution and will result in the increase of the popularity of the scheme.
Therefore,we can see that there are many ways and methods of providing for a timely resolving of industrial disputes, both working within the traditional system and offering newer methods that combine both formal and informal adjudication proccesses.
Pocket Book for Labour Statistics 2017, pp.48-50 , accessed at (http://labourbureau.gov.in/Report_PBLS_2017.pdf )
T. S.Sankaran, Labour Adjudication in India:Suggestions for a new system, Indian Law Institute
 Saini, Debi S. “Compulsory Adjudication of Industrial Disputes: Juridification of Industrial Relations.” Indian Journal of Industrial Relations, vol. 27, no. 1, 1991, pp. 5. JSTOR
Workmen of Hindustan Lever Ltd. vs. Hindustan Level Ltd. (1984) Lab.I.C.276 (286-87) (S.C.).
Ibid. 1, pp. 43-45
Ibid. 3, p. 7
Law Commission of India Report on Uniformity in Labour http://lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/101-169/Report122.pdf
Analysis of the functioning of Lok Adalats in the eastern region of India – Comparitive report p. 124