Hindustan Lever Mazdoor S. V. Hindustan Levers Ltd.  INSC 1159 (16 July
IN THE SUPREME COURT
OF INDIA CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION CIVIL APPEAL NO. 4460 OF 2008 [Arising
out of SLP(C) No.9243/2006] WORKMEN THROUGH HINDUSTAN .......APPELLANT(S) LEVER
MAZDOOR SABHA Versus
ORDER Delay condoned.
granted. Heard learned counsel for appellant and respondent.
is one of the Unions representing the workmen of respondent company. The
workmen of the respondent company were receiving dearness allowance without any
ceiling upto 1974. On 31.12.1974, a settlement was entered between the
respondent and the another workers' Union (Lever's Karamchari Union) inter
alia, providing for imposition of a ceiling on the dearness allowance. On
5.12.1977, another settlement was entered between the respondent company and
the appellant Union, which ratified the settlement dated 31.12.1974. According
to the respondent company, both the settlements dated 31.12.1974 and 5.12.1977
were duly registered.
the appellant Union went on agitating over the issue of ceiling on 2 dearness
allowance contending that the settlement dated 5.12.1977 was signed by persons
who did not have authorisation on behalf of the appellant Union and, therefore,
not binding on them. Ultimately, the appellant Union approached the High Court
of Allahabad in Civil Misc. W.P. No.24313/1989 seeking a direction to the State
Government to exercise its powers under Section 4(Ka) of the U.P. Industrial
Disputes Act and refer the dispute arising out of the 'imposition of ceiling on
dearness allowance payable to the workmen' for adjudication. The High Court, by
its order dated 30.7.1998, allowed the said petition and consequently dispute
was referred to the Industrial Tribunal(V), Meerut and the reference was
registered as Adjudication Case No.42 of 1998.
respondent filed an application before the Tribunal in the said Adj. Case
No.42/1998 referring to some subsequent events and prayed for a declaration
that no dispute survived between the respondent and its workmen and to answer
the reference accordingly. The respondent alleged that all its employees had
voluntarily retired under the Voluntary Retirement Scheme announced by the
company on 7.3.2000 and had received compensation amount in full and final
settlement of all their claims and had confirmed in writing that they had no
pending or outstanding claims. The said application was rejected by the
Tribunal by an order dated 8.8.2003. The Tribunal held that the question that
had to be examined was whether the settlements dated 31.12.1974 and 5.12.1977
were binding on the workmen or not, that the parties had already filed
pleadings and documents and the case was ripe for evidence in regard to a
complex question of fact and law; and that, therefore, the appropriate course
was to permit the parties to lead evidence and decide the dispute on merits. It
was of the view that it was not possible to express any opinion as to whether
the dispute survived or not, at that premature stage.
respondent challenged the said order dated 8.8.2003 before the Allahabad High
Court in C.M.W.P. No.51129 of 2003. The High Court allowed the said writ
petition by order dated 28.5.2004. The High Court referred to the fact that the
Ghaziabad unit of the respondent was closed in 2000 and all workmen had opted
for voluntary retirement under respondent's Voluntary Retirement Scheme of 2000
and had been paid all dues. The High Court held that in view of the said
Voluntary Retirement Scheme of 2000 opted by all workmen, the matter pending
adjudication before the Industrial Tribunal in Adj. Case No.42/1998 had become
stale and that in the changed circumstances, it was inexpedient to allow the
said proceedings to drag on. The High Court also referred to the fact that the
dispute regarding dearness allowance had been pending for thirty years, and the
Ghaziabad unit was lying closed for five years and the unit had no workmen in
its employment. The High Court held that there was no industrial undertaking
nor workmen and, therefore, there was no industrial dispute and the appellant
Union had lost its right to represent the workmen of the unit. Consequently,
the High Court quashed the order dated 8.8.2003 and directed the Industrial
Tribunal to dispose of the application filed by the employer in the light of
its observations. In other words, the High Court virtually directed the
Industrial Tribunal to close the pending dispute in Adj. Case No.42/1998. The
said order is challenged in this appeal by special leave.
the outset, it should be noticed that the mere fact that the unit was closed or
that all the workmen had taken voluntary retirement will not put an end to a
validly pending industrial dispute in regard to a past grievance unless the
employer is able to show that such grievance was also settled.
this case, though all the workmen might have taken voluntary retirement under
the scheme introduced in 2000, the settlement entered (in a standard form)
between the respondent company and retiring workmen specifically excluded the
pending dispute relating to ceiling on dearness allowance from the settlement. The
said clause is extracted below.
"5. On receipt
of the above compensation, the workman will have no other claim whatsoever from
the company and the payment shall be considered to be his full and final
settlement of all dues. However, this agreement is without prejudice to the
claim of the workman for the benefits in the Adj. Case No.42/98 pending before
Industrial Tribunal V Meerut regarding dearness allowance. The workman will be
entitled to receive all benefits, if any as applicable, on the final decision
of the case in the appropriate court, i.e. Tribunal, High Court or Supreme
Court as the case may be."
It is, thus, clear that the retirement of the workmen under the Voluntary
Retirement Scheme of 7.3.2000 and payment of compensation in full and final
settlement thereunder excluded the pending dispute relating to ceiling on D.A.
Therefore, the retirement under the Voluntary Retirement Scheme did not result
in settlement of the dispute pending in Adj. Case No.42/1998. Unfortunately,
the High Court lost sight of the said saving clause in the Voluntary Retirement
Scheme in regard to the pending dispute in Adj. Case No.42/1998 and proceeded
on the erroneous assumption that all pending claims of the workmen including
the subject matter of Adj. Case No.42/1998 were settled on their retirement
under the Voluntary Retirement Scheme of 7.3.2000. The order of the High Court
cannot, therefore, be sustained.
employer submitted that in the context of certain disputes relating to an 5
earlier voluntary separation scheme, the Industrial Tribunal, Kanpur had made
final award dated 30.10.1998 (in Case No.38 to 80/2003) wherein the Tribunal
had held the settlements dated 31.12.1974 and 5.12.1977 were valid settlements,
as they were registered settlements. It is also pointed out that when the said
award dated 30.10.1998 was challenged before the High Court in W.P. No. 15533
of 1999, the High Court in its judgment dated 17.4.2000, did not disturb the
finding regarding validity of those settlements, even though on merits, it had
interfered with the said award of the Tribunal.
submitted that in view of the categorical finding of the Tribunal at Kanpur
that the settlement dated 5.12.1977 was valid (affirmed by the High Court on
17.4.2000) subsequent to the reference of the dispute relating to ceiling on
D.A. in Adj.
Case No.42/1998, the
very basis for the dispute in Adj. Case No.42/1998 disappeared and consequently
the pending dispute in Adj. Case No. 42/1998 should be considered as having
been finally settled by the award dated 30.10.1998 in Cases No.38 to 80/2003.
careful examination of the Award of the Kanpur Industrial Tribunal shows the
contention of respondent is without merit. The final award dated 30.10.1998
relied on by the respondent company makes it clear that the Tribunal was of the
view that the registered settlements dated 31.12.1974 and 5.12.1977 were valid
as the said settlements had not been challenged by the Union. It is apparent
that the award dated 30.10.1998 assumed that the settlements had not been
challenged while in fact a reference in regard to the dispute relating to the
challenge had been made a few days earlier. It cannot be said that either the
award dated 30.10.1998 or the order of the High Court dated 17.4.2000 had
unconditionally upheld the validity of the settlements dated 31.12.1974 and
5.12.1977. In fact, that was not the subject matter of the dispute that was
being considered by the Tribunal at Kanpur (or the High Court in the writ
petition challenging its award). The settlements were observed to be valid
subject to challenge of such 6 settlements.
view of the above, we allow this appeal, set aside the order of the High Court
and restore the order of the Tribunal. We would only like to add that in view
of the long pendency, the Tribunal shall endeavour to dispose of Adj. Case
R.V. RAVEENDRAN ) New Delhi ; ...........................J.