The Supreme Court bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Navin Sinha, on Monday, June 19, held that the non-implementation or partial implementation of the Majithia Wage Board Award by some newspaper establishments stemmed from the understanding of the concerned establishments in a particular manner. Therefore, they cannot be held to have wilfully disobeyed the judgment of the Supreme Court dated 7.2.2014.
“At best, the default alleged has taken place on account of a wrong understanding of the Award as upheld by this Court. This would not amount to wilful default so as to attract the liability of civil contempt as defined under Section 2(b) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. The default alleged though is unmistakably evident to us, in the absence of any wilful or deliberate intention to commit the same cannot make any of the newspaper establishments liable for contempt. On the other hand, they are entitled to one more opportunity to implement the Award in its proper spirit and effect”, the bench held.
The Supreme Court conceded that the issues concerning (i)Clause 20(j) of the Award, (ii)whether the award applies to contractual employees, (iii)whether it includes variable pay and (iv) the extent of financial erosion that would justify withholding of payment of arrears has not been specific ally dealt with either in the Award or in the judgment of the Court.
On each of the above issues, however, the Court reiterated the scope and ambit of the Award afresh. On Clause 20(j), the Court the Act guarantees each newspaper employee entitlement to receive wages as recommended by the Wage Board and approved and notified by the Central Government under Section 12 of the Act. The wages notified, it said, supersedes all existing contracts governing wages as may be in force. However, it will always be open to the concerned employee to agree to and accept any benefits which is more favourable to him than what has been notified .
The Court clarified that the benefits of the Award are applicable to regular employees as well as contractual employees. On variable pay, the Court held that it aims to give fair and equitable treatment to employees of newspapers. “Therefore, no question of withholding the said benefit by taking any other view with regard to “variable pay” can arise, the bench observed.
In Paragraph 27, the bench held that henceforth all complaints with regard to non-implementation of the Award or otherwise be dealt with in terms of the mechanism provided under Section 17 of the Act. “It would be more appropriate to resolve such complaints and grievances by resort to enforcement and remedial machinery provided under the Act rather than by any future approaches to the Courts in exercise of the contempt jurisdiction of the Courts or otherwise”, the bench made it clear.
The Court asked the writ petitioners seeking interference with transfer/termination and other service conditions, to approach the appropriate authority under the Act or under cognate provisions of law (Industrial Disputes Act, 1947), as the case may be. The Court found that invoking Article 32 jurisdiction of the Supreme Court would not be justified for this purpose.