Settlement Machinery for Industrial Disputes
Conciliation, Arbitration & Adjudication
Some of the major industrial dispute settlement machinery are as follows:
- Court of Inquiry
- Voluntary Arbitration
- Adjudication (Compulsory arbitration).
This machinery has been provided under the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. It, in fact, provides a legalistic way of setting the disputes. As said above, the goal of preventive machinery is to create an environment where the disputes do not arise at all.
Even then if any differences arise, the judicial machinery has been provided to settle them lest they should result into work stoppages. In this sense, the nature of this machinery is curative for it aims at curing the aliments.
Conciliation, is a form of mediation. Mediation is the act of making active effort to bring two conflicting parties to compromise. Mediation, however, differs from conciliation in that whereas conciliator plays only a passive and indirect role, and the scope of his functions is provided under the law, the mediator takes active part and the scope of his activities are not subject to any statutory provisions.
Conciliation is the “practice by which the services of a neutral party are used in a dispute as a means of helping the disputing parties to reduce the extent of their differences and to arrive at an amicable settlement of agreed solution.”
The Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 provides for conciliation, and can be utilised either by appointing conciliation officers (permanently or for a limited period) or by constituting a board of conciliation. This conciliation machinery can take a note of a dispute or apprehend dispute either on its own or when approached by either party.
With a view to expediting conciliation proceeding, time-limits have been prescribed—14 days in the case of conciliation officers and two months in the case of a board of conciliation, settlement arrived at in the course of conciliation is binding for such period as may be agreed upon between the parties or for a period of 6 months and with continue to be binding until revoked by either party. The Act prohibits strike and lock-out during the pendency of conciliation proceedings before a Board and for seven days after the conclusion of such proceedings.
The law provides for the appointment of Conciliation Officer by the Government to conciliate between the parties to the industrial dispute. The Conciliation Officer is given the powers of a civil court, whereby he is authorised to call the witness the parties on oath. It should be remembered, however, whereas civil court cannot go beyond interpreting the laws, the conciliation officer can go behind the facts and make judgment which will be binding upon the parties.
On receiving information about a dispute, the conciliation officer should give formal intimation in writing to the parties concerned of his intention to commence conciliation proceedings from a specified date. He should then start doing all such things as he thinks fit for the purpose of persuading the parties to come to fair and amicable settlement of the dispute.
Conciliation is an art where the skill, tact, imagination and even personal influence of the conciliation officer affect his success. The Industrial Disputes Act, therefore, does not prescribe any procedure to the followed by him.
The conciliation officer is required to submit his report to the appropriate government along with the copy of the settlement arrived at in relation to the dispute or in case conciliation has failed, he has to send a detailed report giving out the reasons for failure of conciliation.
The report in either case must be submitted within 14 days of the commencement of conciliation proceedings or earlier. But the time for submission of the report may be extended by an agreement in writing of all the parties to the dispute subject to the approval of the conciliation officer.
If an agreement is reached (called the memorandum of settlement), it remains binding for such period as is agreed upon by the parties, and if no such period is agreed upon, for a period of six months from the date on which the memorandum of settlement is signed by the parties to the dispute, and continues to be binding on the parties after the expiry of the period aforesaid, until the expiry of two months from the date on which a notice in writing of an intention to terminate the settlement is given by one of the party or parties to the settlement.
Board of Conciliation:
In case Conciliation Officer fails to resolve the differences between the parties, the government has the discretion to appoint a Board of Conciliation. The Board is tripartite and ad hoc body. It consists of a chairman and two or four other members.
The chairman is to be an independent person and other members are nominated in equal number by the parties to the dispute. Conciliation proceedings before a Board are similar to those that take place before the Conciliation Officer. The Government has yet another option of referring the dispute to the Court of Inquiry instead of the Board of Conciliation.
The machinery of the Board is set in motion when a dispute is referred to it. In other words, the Board does not hold the conciliation proceedings of its own accord. On the dispute being referred to the Board, it is the duty of the Board to do all things as it thinks fit for the purpose of inducing the parties to come to a fair and amicable settlement. The Board must submit its report to the government within two months of the date on which the dispute was referred to it. This period can be further extended by the government by two months.
- Court of Inquiry:
In case of the failure of the conciliation proceedings to settle a dispute, the government can appoint a Court of Inquiry to enquire into any matter connected with or relevant to industrial dispute. The court is expected to submit its report within six months. The court of enquiry may consist of one or more persons to be decided by the appropriate government.
The court of enquiry is required to submit its report within a period of six months from the commencement of enquiry. This report is subsequently published by the government within 30 days of its receipt. Unlike during the period of conciliation, workers’ right to strike, employers’ right to lockout, and employers’ right to dismiss workmen, etc. remain unaffected during the proceedings in a court to enquiry.
A court of enquiry is different from a Board of Conciliation. The former aims at inquiring into and revealing the causes of an industrial dispute. On the other hand, the latter’s basic objective is to promote the settlement of an industrial dispute. Thus, a court of enquiry is primarily fact-finding machinery.
- Voluntary Arbitration:
On failure of conciliation proceedings, the conciliation officer many persuade the parties to refer the dispute to a voluntary arbitrator. Voluntary arbitration refers to getting the disputes settled through an independent person chosen by the parties involved mutually and voluntarily.
In other words, arbitration offers an opportunity for a solution of the dispute through an arbitrator jointly appointed by the parties to the dispute. The process of arbitration saves time and money of both the parties which is usually wasted in case of adjudication.
Voluntary arbitration became popular as a method a settling differences between workers and management with the advocacy of Mahatma Gandhi, who had applied it very successfully in the Textile industry of Ahmedabad. However, voluntary arbitration was lent legal identity only in 1956 when Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 was amended to include a provision relating to it.
The provision for voluntary arbitration was made because of the lengthy legal proceedings and formalities and resulting delays involved in adjudication. It may, however, be noted that arbitrator is not vested with any judicial powers.
He derives his powers to settle the dispute from the agreement that parties have made between themselves regarding the reference of dispute to the arbitrator. The arbitrator should submit his award to the government. The government will then publish it within 30 days of such submission. The award would become enforceable on the expiry of 30 days of its publication.
Voluntary arbitration is one of the democratic ways for setting industrial disputes. It is the best method for resolving industrial conflicts and is a close’ supplement to collective bargaining. It not only provides a voluntary method of settling industrial disputes, but is also a quicker way of settling them.
It is based on the notion of self-government in industrial relations. Furthermore, it helps to curtail the protracted proceedings attendant on adjudication, connotes a healthy attitude and a developed outlook; assists in strengthening the trade union movement and contributes for building up sound and cordial industrial relations.
The ultimate remedy for the settlement of an industrial dispute is its reference to adjudication by labour court or tribunals when conciliation machinery fails to bring about a settlement. Adjudication consists of settling disputes through intervention by the third party appointed by the government. The law provides the adjudication to be conducted by the Labour Court, Industrial Tribunal of National Tribunal.
A dispute can be referred to adjudication if hot the employer and the recognised union agree to do so. A dispute can also be referred to adjudication by the Government even if there is no consent of the parties in which case it is called ‘compulsory adjudication’. As mentioned above, the dispute can be referred to three types of tribunals depending on the nature and facts of dispute in questions.
(a) Labour courts,
(b) Industrial tribunals, and
(c) National tribunals.
The procedure, powers, and provisions regarding commencement of award and period of operation of award of these three bodies are similar. The first two bodies can be set up either by State or Central Government but the national tribunal can be constituted by the Central Government only, when it thinks that the adjudication of a dispute is of national importance. These three bodies are into hierarchical in nature. It is the Government’s prerogative to refer a dispute to any of these bodies depending on the nature of dispute.
(а) Labour Court:
A labour court consists of one person only, who is normally a sitting or an ex-judge of a High Court. It may be constituted by the appropriate Government for adjudication of disputes which are mentioned in the second schedule of the Act.
The issues referred to a labour court may include:
(i) The propriety or legality of an order passed by an employer under the Standing Orders.
(ii) The application and interpretation of Standing Orders.
(iii) Discharge and dismissal of workmen and grant of relief to them.
(iv) Withdrawal of any statutory concession or privilege.
(v) Illegality or otherwise of any strike or lockout.
(vi) All matters not specified in the third schedule of Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. (It deals with the jurisdiction of Industrial Tribunals).
(b) Industrial Tribunal:
Like a labour court, an industrial tribunal is also a one-man body. The matters which fall within the jurisdiction of industrial tribunals are as mentioned in the second schedule or the third schedule of the Act. Obviously, industrial tribunals have wider jurisdiction than the labour courts.
Moreover an industrial tribunal, in addition to the presiding officer, can have two assessors to advise him in the proceedings; the appropriate Government is empowered to appoint the assessors.
The Industrial Tribunal may be referred the following issues:
- Wages including the period and mode of payment.
- Compensatory and other allowances.
- Hours of work and rest intervals.
- Leave with wages and holidays.
- Bonus, profit sharing, provident fund and gratuity.
- Shift working otherwise than in accordance with the standing orders.
- Rule of discipline.
- Any other matter that may be prescribed.
(c) National Tribunal:
The Central Government may constitute a national tribunal for adjudication of disputes as mentioned in the second and third schedules of the Act or any other matter not mentioned therein provided in its opinion the industrial dispute involves “questions of national importance” or “the industrial dispute is of such a nature that undertakings established in more than one state are likely to be affected by such a dispute”.
The Central Government may appoint two assessors to assist the national tribunal. The award of the tribunal is to be submitted to the Central Government which has the power to modify or reject it if it considers it necessary in public interest
It should be noted that every award of a Labour Court, Industrial Tribunal or National Tribunal must be published by the appropriate Government within 30 days from the date of its receipt. Unless declared otherwise by the appropriate government, every award shall come into force on the expiry of 30 days from the date of its publication and shall remain in operation for a period of one year thereafter.