23 Aug 2023 7:30 AM GMT
The Rajasthan High Court at Jaipur has held that a dispute under the Apprentices Act 1961 cannot be treated as an 'industrial dispute' under the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. Justice Anoop Kumar Dhand cited Section 18 of the 1961 Act which states that apprentices are trainees, not workers and that provisions of any law with respect to labour shall not apply to or in relation to an...
The Rajasthan High Court at Jaipur has held that a dispute under the Apprentices Act 1961 cannot be treated as an 'industrial dispute' under the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. Justice Anoop Kumar Dhand cited Section 18 of the 1961 Act which states that apprentices are trainees, not workers and that provisions of any law with respect to labour shall not apply to or in relation to an apprentice.
The bench thus set aside an award passed by the Industrial Tribunal, Jaipur which directed the Indian Oil Corporation to reinstate private respondents, who were engaged with it as apprentice for a period of 11 months. It held the respondents cannot claim themselves as ‘Workmen’ to invoke the jurisdiction of the Labour Court.
“Bare perusal of the record indicates that all the respondents have executed Apprenticeship Contract/agreement for 11 months by reading the terms and conditions mentioned therein from their naked open eyes. Hence, they are bound by the same and they are estopped to challenge the same after expiry of their term as Apprentice. Now, they cannot claim themselves as ‘Workmen’ to invoke the jurisdiction of the Labour Court under the provision of the Act of 1947 as the same was not applicable in their case as per Section 18 of the Act of 1961.”
The respondents had joined IOCL as petrol fillers after signing a contract of apprenticeship. On completion of the 11-month period, they raised an industrial dispute before the Industrial Tribunal cum Labour Court, Jaipur under Section 10 of ID Act, challenging the validity of their termination letters as violative of Section 25F and Section 25H of ID Act.
IOCL's counsel argued that respondents were never engaged as workmen, rather they were engaged as ‘apprentice’ and a contract of apprenticeship was executed between the parties for 11 months and during these 11 months apprenticeship training was provided to the respondents and after completion of the said period the agreement came to an end. It was argued that the respondents do not fall within the definition of ‘workmen’, hence the Labour Court was not having any jurisdiction to entertain the claim petition filed by the respondents.
The issue before the Court was whether provisions of Apprentices Act or provisions of the ID Act will apply in this case. At the outset, it noted that the Act of 1961 is a special enactment which provides provisions relating to Apprentice. Therefore, the provisions of Apprentices Act would prevail over the provision of the ID Act. The Court observed,
“Section 18 of the Act of 1961 clearly excludes the applicability of the labour laws in relation to apprentice, meaning thereby the provisions of the Act of 1947 are not applicable in the matters dealing with the apprenticeship. As the Act of 1947 is a general law whereas the Act of 1961 is a special statue and thus it would prevail over the general law as Section 18(3) clearly provides for non applicability of such labour laws in the matters covered under the Act of 1961.”
The Court placed reliance on State of Maharashtra and ors. v. Anita and Anr. (2016) where Apex Court held that looking to the nature of the appointment having duly accepted the term of it, the candidate is estopped from challenging the nature of appointment at the end of his service.
The Court noted:
“It is well-established principle of law and it is a well-known fact that in a given case Court can iron out the fabric but it cannot change the texture of the fabric. It cannot enlarge the scope of interpretation when the language of the apprenticeship agreement is plain and unambiguous. It cannot add or subtract the words to the same or read something into which is not there. It cannot rewrite or recast the apprenticeship agreement of respondents. When the apprenticeship agreement executed by the respondents indicates that they were engaged as ‘Apprentice’, then with stretch of no imagination the respondents can be treated as ‘Workman’”.
The court held that the State Government was not competent to make a reference under Section 4(K) of the ID Act and the Tribunal had miserably failed while making the award when specific plea was raised about the maintainability of the proceedings in view of the bar under Section 18 of the Act of 1961.
“The dispute under the Act of 1961 cannot be treated as industrial dispute as the provisions of the labour law are not applicable in view of Section 18 of the Act of 1961. Reference of the industrial dispute for adjudication to the Tribunal and its award is illegal and without jurisdiction,” the Court said.
Case Title: Indian Oil Corporation Limited v. Shri Narendra Singh Shekhawat & Anr.and Other Connected petitions
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (Raj) 79
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