TN: HPCL's petition dismissed in labour dispute

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Chennai, Jul 24: The Madras High Court has dismissed a petition filed by the Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL) and imposed costs on the public sector company in a labour dispute case.

Allowing a writ petition filed by eight workmen of HPCL, the court said they were entitled to regularisation from the date they completed 480 days of service within a period of 24 months, together with 50 per cent of back wages ordered by the Central government Labour Court-cum-Industrial Tribunal (CGIT).

It also ordered payment of Rs 1,000 to each of the workmen towards the cost of litigation, pending since 1998.

The HPCL, represented by its Chairman-cum-Managing Director, had challenged a March 2005 award of the CGIT, Chennai, granting relief of regularisation to the workmen from the date of their retrenchment with all the attendant benefits, including back wages.

The workmen had challenged the denial by the CGIT, in the same award, of regularisation of their service from the date of completion of 480 days of service.

In February 2004, the Centre had referred the industrial dispute to the CGIT, Chennai, for adjudication. The point for adjudication was whether the industrial dispute raised by the Petroleum Workers Union against the HPCL management for regularisation of service of the workmen and relief claimed by them was justified, and, if so, what relief they were entitled to.

The CGIT concluded that the workmen were HPCL employees and entitled to relief of regularisation from the date of their retrenchment with attendant benefits, including 50 per cent of the back wages.

In the common order, Justice K Chandru said HPCL workmen were governed by the Certified Standing Orders (CSO), under which there was no provision to engage any contract labourer. Courts had held that any contract in violation of CSO would be void. The workmen, who were sweepers or scavengers or cleaners, had worked from 1989 till 1998 without any break. They were not under the control of the so-called contractors, but under the direct supervision of HPCL.

The company had never denied that similarly placed workmen in Mumbai and Visakhapatnam had been regularised in the wake of a Supreme Court order.

The Judge held that the CGIT's finding regarding the contract between the workmen and HPCL being sham and nominal, the impugned award was in consonance with legal principles. But, while ordering regularisation only from the date of retrenchment, the tribunal did not keep in mind the relevant legal provisions, viz, the effect of a State Act, which guaranteed permanency if a workman completed 480 days of service within 24 months, the judge said, modifying the tribunal's order.

He also dismissed a petition filed by the HPCL, calling for the records of the CGIT relating to an award to the workers and quashing the same.


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