Workmen of Firestone Tyre and Rubber Co. of India v. The Management and Ors.I Labour laws in India



Labour laws or Industrial laws are those set of regulations or precedents that define the rights and obligations of working people and their organizations. It mediates various aspects of the relationship between employers and employees ensuring that the workplaces are safe, industrial relations are maintained and most importantly, the employment standards or wages are not exploitative. Labour laws can be categorized into two categories. First, collective labour laws that relate to the tripartite relationship between employer, employee, and union. Second, individual labour laws that concern an individual employee’s rights at work. The labour laws in India came along with British colonialism. The competition that the British textile industry brought, pressurized the Indians to make the Indian labour costlier because of which the Factories Act was introduced in 1833. This was the first labour law in India. Following this various other labour laws have been passed for the protection of the rights of labours.


 Under the Constitution of India, labour is a subject in the concurrent list. As a result, a number of labour laws have been passed by both the Centre and the State governments. The Constitution of India in Chapter-III (Article 16, 19, 23, and 24) and Chapter IV (Articles 39, 41, 42, 43A, and 54) protects the dignity and interests of labours. Besides these, the labour laws in India have also been influenced by the various conventions and standards of the United Nation. All these labour laws and policies include the right to work of one’s choice, protection of wages, social security, right to organize and form trade unions, redress of grievances, and participation in management. With all these laws, the constitution provides detailed provisions for the rights of labours and also lays down the Directive Principles of State Policy that guides the activities of the State. Some of these Directive Principles provide that: the tender age of children is not abused; humane conditions of work and maternity relief are provided and that the citizens are not forced by economic necessity to work in places unsuited to their strength or age.


India, over the years, has had a multitude of labour laws owing to the changing economic and cultural circumstances. Considering this large amount of labour laws, the Indian government in 2020 has subsumed over 29 Central and State laws into four major Labour Codes to simplify, modernize and restructure the current business structure in India. The four Labour Codes are the Code on Wages, 2019; the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020; the Industrial Relations Code, 2020; and the Code on Social Security, 2020. The introduction of these codes has brought some key changes like a uniform definition of wages across all codes and recognition of the concept of Fixed-term employment in statutes. The labour laws in India are indeed changing effectively with the times to protect the labours from any kind of exploitation.


Objectives of Labour laws

  • The labour legislations that are enacted aim to fulfill three crucial roles:
  • It creates a legal system that facilitates a positive and productive relationship between the employer and employee, thereby, creating a productive economy.
  • It provides a framework within which the workers and their employers can freely interact about work-related issues which helps in creating a harmonious industry with workplace democracy.
  •  It acts as a constant reminder and guarantees the rights of workers at workplaces that motivates and gives confidence to the labours.


Landmark judgments of Labour Laws


1    Workmen of Firestone Tyre and Rubber Co. of India v. The Management and Ors.[1]


The respondent company manufactured tyres in Bombay with a distribution office in Delhi. The workmen of the company had a dispute with its employer because of the termination of its workmen based on a Domestic enquiry finding. While the case was pending, The Industrial Tribunal Act was amended in 1971, and Section 11 A that conferred the powers of Appellate authority to the Industrial Tribunal over domestic enquiry decision was inserted. The Industrial tribunal disregarded this amended provision of Section 11 A and ruled the judgement in favor of the employer. This decision was then appealed to the Supreme Court. The counsel for the petitioners argued that Section 11A applies not only to cases after 15-12-1971 (the date the act was passed) but also on all pending cases till then since the wordings of the act considerably point towards the same. The respondents on the other hand argued that the amendment must not be allowed in the present case since it was meant for all cases that would arise in the future. Both the parties also interpreted Section 11A in varied forms.


Key Issues:

The key issues in this case were:

·       The proper interpretation of Section 11A of the Industrial Disputes Act

·       If the amended act had a retrospective application, that is, if it was applicable on the cases that were pending before it was passed


Decision of the court:

The court after interpreting Section 11A, dismissed the appeal and stated that Section 11A would apply only to cases that have come before the court after the amendment was passed, that is after 15-12-1971.


Final Ratio:

The court observed that the right to decide upon the degree of punishment or to take a disciplinary action are managerial functions. However, if a matter is referred to the tribunal, the tribunal has the authority to check and if needed intervene in the employer’s actions. The only requirements are that it should be done in good faith, there should be victimization of labour and there is a violation of natural justice. Hence, if an enquiry has not been conducted or if the enquiry is unfair, the court or the tribunal has the right to interfere in the employer’s decisions according to Section 11A of the Industrial Tribunal Act. The court also held that if misconduct is proved, the punishment imposed by the employer cannot be interfered with by the tribunal or the court unless it is extremely harsh. It also stated that the tribunal has the jurisdiction to consider the evidence of an enquiry only if no enquiry has been committed or of the employer is found to be defective in his justifications of action. Hence, the court clarified the interpretation of Section 11A and clarified the aim behind the section. It said that the objective of the section was not to interfere in the relationship of an employer and employee but to ensure that an employer is not biased or unfair in his actions. It said that “the section has the effect of altering the law by abridging the rights of the employer as much as it gives power to the Tribunal for the first time to differ both on a finding of misconduct arrived at by an employer as well as the punishment imposed by him.” Furthermore, it held that Section 11A applies only the disputes that have occurred after the section has come into force, that is, after 15-12-1971, since the proviso says, “in any proceeding under the section.” It observed that a proceeding under a section can only occur after the section has been enacted. The appeal was thus dismissed.


Personal Observation:

In my opinion, this judgement is important when it comes to labour laws primarily because of the reasoning the judges give while interpreting Section 11A. The judges make the aim of Labour laws clear through their reasoning. They direct the interpretation of the section majorly to the benefit of the employee. Hence, the interpretation of Section 11A not only clarified the intention behind that section, but behind Labour laws. This according to me is the base of any judgement that will be adjudicated in future, making this case important. Also, it set a strong precedent for the other courts with regards to the scope of Section 11A and its interpretation.

Varuni Agarwal, 
2nd Year, OP Jindal Global University

[1] Workmen of Firestone Tyre and Rubber Co. of India v. The Management and Ors., (1973) SCR (3) 587. 

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