Arkal Govind Rajrao v. Ciba Geigy of India Ltd, 1985 AIR 985, 1985 SCR Supl. (1) 282


The initial legislation aimed at safeguarding the interests of labor, specifically referred to as ‘Workmen,’ and resolving industrial disputes prior to the enactment of the Industrial Disputes Act of 1947 was the Trade Disputes Act of 1929. Due to its inherent shortcomings and failure to achieve the intended objectives, this earlier act was eventually amended and replaced by the new Industrial Disputes Act. The foundation of the jurisdiction under this Act hinges on determining whether an employee qualifies as a ‘Workman’ as defined in the Industrial Disputes Act of 1947. Nonetheless, this current legislation remains susceptible to potential misuse by employers seeking advantages, and this case sets a precedent for interpreting and defining the term ‘workmen’ under Section 2(s) of the Industrial Disputes Act of 1947.


Arkali Govind Raj Rao, the appellant, began working as a stenographer-cum-accountant for the respondent company on January 18, 1956. In January 1966, he was promoted to the position of an assistant. However, in October 1972, the company terminated his employment, asserting that he did not qualify as a workman under the definition provided in Section 2(s) of the Industrial Disputes Act of 1947. This dispute led to a formal industrial dispute claim, which was subsequently referred to the Labour Court in Bombay by the Deputy Commissioner of Labour (Administration) in Bombay.

Relevant Legal Provisions:

The central issue in this case revolves around whether an assistant primarily engaged in clerical duties falls under the definition of ‘Workmen’ as outlined in Section 2(s) of the Industrial Disputes Act of 1947.

Procedural History:

Following various objections and the presentation of evidence by both parties, the Labour Court concluded that the appellant did not meet the criteria of a workman under Section 2(s) of the Industrial Disputes Act of 1947. Instead, they categorized him as an officer in the Covenanted Contractual Staff Cadre because his responsibilities extended beyond clerical work to include supervisory, administrative tasks, and other responsibilities like checking bank reconciliation statements. Subsequently, the appellant filed a writ petition in the Bombay High Court, which was dismissed early on, prompting the appellant to pursue the case through a special leave petition.

Key Findings of the Labour Court:

The Labour Court made several observations that led to its decision against the appellant:

1. It determined that the appellant’s duties were primarily clerical in nature, comparable to those performed by a skilled clerk.

2. Despite being designated as a group leader after his promotion in 1966, the appellant continued to perform clerical tasks alongside supervisory responsibilities, without a fundamental shift in his primary duties.

3. The Court disagreed with the notion that creating bank reconciliation statements required creativity and reasoned that it was a routine clerical task.

4. Administrative duties, such as submitting requisitions for printed stationery, did not significantly alter the appellant’s job character and status.

5. The difference in salary between an assistant and a clerk was minimal and insufficient to classify the appellant as an officer in the Covenanted Contractual Staff Cadre.

Court’s Decision:

The appeal before the Court was successful, and the judgment favored the appellant. Both the Labour Court’s and the High Court’s orders were set aside, with the respondent company being directed to pay the appellant his normal salary for the previous six months and an additional sum of 3000 rupees.

Key Legal Principles Established:

The case redefined the term ‘Workmen’ in accordance with Section 2(s) of the Industrial Disputes Act of 1947, emphasizing that the determination hinges on the nature of the primary duties performed by the individual. It cautioned against employers attempting to exploit trivialities to evade the application of the relevant Act and aimed to establish a precedent to discourage such practices.

Written by:

Advocate Muskan Chauhan

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