Labour Investigation Committee (1946)||
One of the main problems confronting the Indian worker, as has been stated more than once already, is security of employment, in the sense of both permanency and continuity of service. So far as disciplinary measures are concerned, the desideratum of security of service implies that no worker shall be subjected to any penalty curtailing prospective chances of employment except for a proved offence and in accordance with definite provisions laid down: It is far better that discipline should be assured by engendering a sense of mutual co-operation and helpfulness between the workers and the management but even where this is lacking for any reason, the next best principle is to suit the degree of severity of disciplinary measures to the degree of offence committed by the worker and, as far as possible, to avoid me severest penalty of dismissal or suspension.
The usual disciplinary measures are (i) dismissal, (ii) suspension or forced leave, and (iii) imposition of fines. Apart from these, there may be other less recognised modes of punishment.
(i) Dismissal and discharge are the most extreme forms of punishment and are liable to be much abused, especially in industries where jobbery in one form or other exists and where supply of labour is easily forthcoming. There is no doubt that dismissal gives the jobber an opportunity to fleece the workers. Moreover, it has been stated by trade unions that this form of punishment is most frequently used against workers interested in union activities. More often than not, however, what happens is that a weapon which is used with the avowed purpose of rooting out trade unionism actually causes more strikes and lockouts than are strictly necessary. A slight distinction is to be made between discharge and dismissal. Discharge can take the place of dismissal as a disciplinary measure, but it is less vindictive, as it may not make re-employment so difficult. Moreover, discharge also takes place very often for other reasons, such as completion of work, etc. On the other hand, dismissal is a more extreme form of punishment involving the possibility of a worker's record being used against him at the time of re-employment. The Bihar Labour Enquiry Committee1 recommended the retention of these forms of punishment only in cases of grave misconduct. The problem of wrongful dismissal or discharge is a very complicated one. Under the labour laws, the employer is not prevented from dismissing a worker without due notice. All that is safeguarded under the Payment of Wages Act Section 5, sub-section (ii) is that "where the employment of any person is terminated........ the wages earned by him shall be paid before the expiry of the second working day on which his employment is terminated". Under the circumstances the worker is perhaps safeguarded by the ordinary Law of Contract only if there is any provision in the agreement between himself and the employer as to due notice before dismissal or payment of wages in lieu of notice Unfortunately, except in the Bombay Province under the Industrial Disputes Act, whenever there are any agreements in this connection, it appears
F.N. Report, p. 19.
that the workers' rights are very much inferior to those of the employer, and whereas notice is demanded from the worker, no notice is necessary on the part of the employer. In the Central P. W. D. for example, work charged or temporary men can be dispensed without notice on the part of the Department, but if the worker wants to leave, he has to give one month's notice! "This practice is also quite common amongst other employers. It appears that the legal decisions on the basis of ordinary civil law in case of dismissal without notice, where no definite agreement had been arrived at, have been somewhat conflicting, and the general principle of law that notice of dismissal should be of the same duration as the period of wage payment has not been always upheld. In view s of this, we feel that the question of notice of dismissal or payment of wages in lieu thereof should be placed beyond the possibility of doubt by specific legal regulation.
(ii) Suspension.—The practice of suspending workers for offences docs not seem to be much in vogue in the industries investigated. Generally a warning is given, and if the offence is repeated and the worker does not mend his ways, he is simply discharged. Suspension or "forced leave" should be distinguished from "compulsory leave" which is not meant as a punishment, but as a device to make room for badli workers. Under the standing orders framed under the Bombay Industrial Disputes Act, the circumstances under which suspension should be resorted to are precisely laid down. This question, like most other questions of day-today management of labour, appears to be a fit subject for standing orders. In this connection, we feel that suspension should not exceed a definite period, e.g., 10 days and should not be regarded as constituting a break in the continuity of service.
(iii) Fines.—Under the Payment of -Wages Act, Section 8, it has been laid down that fines shall not be imposed on any employed person for offences other than those specified by the Provincial Government or. by the prescribed authority under the Act. It has also been laid down that no fine shall be imposed until the worker has been given an opportunity of showing cause against the fine and that the total amount of the fine imposed in any one wage period shall not exceed an amount equal to half an anna in the rupee of the wages payable to him in respect of that wage period. Further, there is a a time limit of 60 days for recovery of the fine, and there is also the requirement that all fines shall be recorded in a register and the proceeds utilised for purposes beneficial to the persons employed in the factory. The provisions of the Payment of Wages Act in this regard appear to be adequate and satisfactory, and as a consequence it appears that imposition of fines has become less common in most concerns in recent years. There are no doubt a number of concerns where fining is still prevalent. The fines registers are not, however, always properly maintained and, what is still more objectionable, the amounts are not always utilised in the manner directed by the law. The concerns are supposed to spend these amounts "for the welfare of workers" and the administration in all cases is in the hands of the management. A number of cases, however, came to our notice, where no separate Fine Fund was maintained, nor the proceeds utilised for any welfare measures. In some cases, the amounts were credited to factory accounts Moreover, even where some sort of welfare activity was undertaken, this was merely nominal. For example, in a large municipal corporation, where the avowed objects of the investment of the Fine Fund are maintenance of reading rooms and play-grounds, contributions to institutions established for the benefit of municipal employees and
other measures of well-being out of a total amount standing to the credit of the Fund of Rs. 5, 55, 702 on. the 1st January, 1944, only Rs. 34, 924 was spent on welfare, the establishment charges of welfare being Rs. 22, 910
(iv) Other Measures.—Of course, apart from the above disciplinary measure, in some industries, reduction of wage rates and reduction of grade are also prevalent. The reduction of wage rates already agreed to under an existing contract is tantamount to an illegal deduction under the Payment of Wages Act according to a decision of the Sind Chief Court. However, as the worker does not resort to the law court for such things for fear of being dismissed unceremoniously, we care afraid that the legal decision is not effective everywhere. We fully agree with the Bihar Labour Enquiry Committee1 that reduction of wage rates should be made specifically unlawful as it is quite possible for an unscrupulous employer to economise his wages bill by resort to this" method. A reduction of grade may have the same effect as reduction of wage rates, so far as the worker is concerned, but, if the work newly allotted to the worker is less onerous or less skilful, there can be no corresponding gain to the employer. De-grading of this kind may, therefore, be less objectionable, but unless, like all other measures of discipline, it is controlled by actual standing orders or by law it is likely to be abused. In particular, it is worth consideration whether this measure should not be restricted to definite period so as not to penalise the worker permanently,