The Bombay High Court has ruled that when employees of newspapers under the Working Journalists and Other Newspaper Employees (Conditions of Service) and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1955, claim recovery of dues from their employer and same is denied by the employer, then the state or its delegate must refer the matter to a Labour Court.
Justice SC Gupte passed the judgment in a batch of writ petitions, but the main petition along with which others were tagged was filed by DB Corp Limited challenging orders by the Assistant Labour Commissioner in favour of working journalists and other newspaper employees.
DB Corp Ltd is a public limited company that published the newspaper Dainik Bhaskar. DB Corp stated in the petition that the concerned employee who claimed dues under the Act was working as a system engineer in an administrative capacity.
In September 2016, the said employee filed an application before the Assistant Labour Commissioner, Mumbai, claiming recovery of arrears of wages due to him under the Majithia Wage Board Award that recommended wages and emoluments of working journalists and other newspaper employees, which were accepted by the Government of India.
DB Corp contested this application contending that the recommendations of Majithia Wage Board were not applicable in the present employee’s case as he was not an employee in the newspaper division but worked as part of the IT administration. Thus, the applicant employee was ineligible.
However, the Labour Commissioner rejected the petitioner’s contentions and directed a recovery of Rs 26 lakh towards wages owed to the applicant employee. DB Corp then filed this writ petition challenging the order and questioning the authority of the state or its delegate (Labour Commissioner in this case) under Section 17(1) of the said Act.
With reference to Section 17 of the Act, the court examined the judgment of the Supreme Court in Kasturi and Sons (Private) Ltd vs. N Salivateswaran. After the decision in this case, two sub-sections were added by the legislature and so the court concluded: “State Government or its delegate has power to issue a certificate only if no question arises as to the amount due. If there is any question or contest as to the amount due, it must be referred to a Labour Court constituted under the Industrial Disputes Act or other corresponding law relating to investigation and settlement of industrial disputes.”
Thus, the court directed the Assistant Labour Commissioner to refer each application in the matter to the Labour Court and said: “Whenever a claim for recovery of amount due is contested by the employer newspaper establishment and adjudication or determination of the amount due is called for, the State Government or its delegate (in the present case, the Assistant Labour Commissioner) has to stay its hand and necessarily refer it to the Labour Court constituted under the Industrial Disputes Act and await an adjudication by that Court. It is only after such adjudication is made by that Court, that the State or its delegate will have power to issue a recovery certificate.”