Strikes and Lockouts of Labour

Strikes and lockout are the last expedient actions taken by the employees and employers respectively to make sure that they both get what they are demanding. Strikes and lockouts provide a means of communication during the time of differences and disagreements in opinions. It plays a vital role in labour. It also provides a means to achieve their basic rights.

The right to strike in India is not expressly perceived by the law. But in today’s scenario, each country of globe whether it’s democratic, capitalist, socialist, gives the right to strike to the workers. For the first time, the Trade Union Act, 1926, gives limited right to strike by legitimizing certain activities in furtherance of a trade dispute which otherwise is a contravention of common economic law. As a legal weapon of trade unions, a right to strike is perceived only to a limited extent possible under the limits laid down by the law itself.

Most of the countries, especially India, are dependent on foreign investments, under such circumstances, it is necessary to keep some safeguards corresponding to industrial laws so that there will be no misuse of the right to strike. The right to strike in the Indian Constitution set up is not a definite right but it flows from the Fundamental Right to form a Union. As every fundamental right is limited by reasonable restrictions, the same is in the case of this right to form trade unions to provoke the workers to go on strikes and the state can inflict reasonable restrictions.

Introduction

A strike is defined under Section 2(q) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 as the stoppage of work by a body of persons employed in any industry acting as a combination, or a concerted denial, or a denial under a common understanding, of any number of persons who are or have been so employed to continue to work or to accept employment. Thus, in simple terms, a strike is the walkout from work by a body of workmen employed in an industry acting in concert. The duration of the strike is irrelevant. It is done with the objective of forcing an employee to meet their particular demands. The employer has to give a notice as a reply to the strike within six weeks before the strike ends, and the time mentioned in the notice expires. A duration of 7 days after the settlement of the conciliation litigation. There are some requirements for the continuation of the strike :

  1. There must be a stoppage of work.
  2. The strike must be fall under the definition of the industry as given in Section 2(j) of the Industrial Disputes Act.
  3. There must be a relationship between employee and employer between them.
  4. The refusal of work must be accompanied by a concerted action for the fulfillment of the industrial demand.
  5. The strikers must have been acting in collaboration.

Types of strikes

General Strike

It means where the workmen join together for a common cause and stay away from work, denying the employer of their labour necessary to run the industry. It is a legal strike since it follows the protocols as mentioned in the Industrial Dispute Act. Employees have to give the notice to the management of industry at least 24 hours in advance before the strike. Strike can be executed if the management is not able to settle the conflict within the given time period.

In Kameshwar Prasad and Ors. v. State of Bihar and Union of India[1], the petitioner and other employees in the state of Bihar filed a case before the High Court against the Bihar Government Servant’s Conduct Rules, 1956, Rule 4-A that forbid workers from protesting or commencement any strike. The judgement was in favour of the employees and the petitioners and stated that ‘to strike’ is the right of the workers though not a fundamental right.

Sit-down Strike:

It involves reporting by employees for duty in their workplaces, taking their positions in their various areas of work. However, the employees thereafter sit idly and do nothing. A sit-down strike aims at ruining production.

In Sadul Textile Mills Limited v. Their Workmen [2], the Supreme Court stated that a sit-down strike is not justified by any means. Therefore, if it does not involve violence, it is a contravention of the employers’ rights.

  • There are other types of strikes such as pen/tool down, go-slow, go-speed which is similar to a general strike.

Case Laws:

Tisco Ltd. v. Workmen[3]

In this case, it was held that if the employer replaced the weekly rest day of Sunday by another day, without giving notice of such change, then it is illegal. Since denying work in the course of execution of an illegal change amounts to a lock-out, such a denial does not amount to a strike.

Punjab National Bank v. All India Punjab National Bank Employees Federation[4]

In this case, it was held that a pen-down strike would be covered under Section 2(q). In such a strike, the workmen enter the establishment but deny to take on their usual work, and continuation of work amounts to initiation of a strike.

Lockouts

Lockout is the opposite of strike. Strike is a weapon of the labourers to force the management to fulfill their demands. Whereas, a lockout is a weapon of the management to pressurize the labourers to agree to their demands relating to the conditions of employment. Lockout is defined under Section 2(1) which states that it is a short-term closing of a place of employment, or the suspension of work, or denial by an employee to continue to employ some persons employed by him.

Case Laws

Shri Ramchandra Spinning Mills v. State of Madras[5]

In this case, it was held that if the employer shuts down his place of business as a means of retaliation or as an instrument of constraint or as a mode of exerting pressure on employees or when his act is what may be called an act of antagonism there will be a lock-out.

Lakshmi Devi Sugar Mills Ltd.  v. Ram sarup[6]

In this case, it was held that in cases where there is neither an adjustment to the prejudice of workmen of the conditions of the service application to them nor liberation or punishment by discharge or otherwise.

Illegal strike and lockout

Section 24 provides that a strike or lockout in breach of Sections  22 and 23 is illegal. Under Section 23, an employee working in an industry shall not strike, contradictory to the agreements made in the contracts. Further, no employer of such an employee shall commence lockout. It is also illegal if a strike happens in public utility service. Individuals who continue to run a strike or lockout opposed to the law may be subject to punishments and penalties according to the Act. An employee who initiates strike may be subjected to an imprisonment of one month or a fine of up to fifty rupees.

Case Laws:

Management of Charukulam Tea Estate (P) Ltd.  v. Workmen[7]

In this case, it was held that workmen are authorised to wages for the strike period as their strike was not unjustified. İt was further held that that the delay of conciliation proceedings before the conciliation officer, as decided from the board, does not proclaim the strike illegal.

M/s Burn &Co. Ltd. v. Their Workmen[8]

It was held that participation in the strike would not justify suspension or dismissal of workmen. Section 155 of the Labour Relation Code protects the pension rights and other benefits of the workmen during the strike and lockout. However, the labourers are also accounted as an employee during strike or lockout and cannot be fired from the industry because any workmen can ask for rehabilitation when a strike or a lockout is over.

Conclusion

The right to strike is not a fundamental and absolute right in India. This is the only conditional right available after certain pre-conditions are fulfilled. If the Constitution makers had intended to confer this right as a fundamental right, they would have clearly stated the same. Employees make use of strikes against their employers to fulfill their demands and employers use the lockout weapon to meet their workers’ demands. Therefore, some boundaries and circumstances make a strike or a lockout either legal or illegal. Illegal strikes and lockouts have consequences in the form of punishment or fine or both.

References

FAQs:

  • When is a strike or a lockout said to be illegal?
  • Differentiate between lockout and strike.
  • When an employee or labourer is on strike, is he still considered an employee?
  • Is it necessary to give a notice before going on strike?
  • What are the different types of strikes?

  • [1] AIR 1962 SC 1166 SCR 369
  • [2] 1958 IIL. L. L. J. 638 Raj.
  • [3] AIR 1972 SC 1917
  • [4] AIR 1960 SC 160
  • [5] AIR 1956 Mad 241
  • [6] 1957-1 LLJ 17 SC
  • [7] (1969). 1 SCR 931
  • [8] AIR 1956 SC 529

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