Employment laws in India came into effect immediately after independence when the focus of legislature was bent more on protecting the interests of the working class. The need was felt to draft labour laws that would not only regulate the functioning of industries with respect to their workers but also to create beneficial employment laws for the welfare of workers. Certain provisions were therefore made when the Industrial Disputes Act 1947 was brought into effect, keeping in mind interests of the working class.
After 63 years, the business environment and scenario has undergone massive change, the definition of ‘Workman’ has been interpreted and reinterpreted by Courts, the definition of ‘Manufacturing Process’ has been elaborated, however, the Industrial Disputed Act of 1947 remains more or less the same.
Section 9A of the Industrial Disputes Act provides for issuance of a Notice of Change. The interpretation of Section 9A will reveal that if any machinery has to be shifted or any process has to be changed in a Factory or any terms of employment changed, it is mandatory that a Notice of Change be issued to the workmen first. Without a Notice of Change, employers cannot bring about any change into effect if workers are likely to be adversely affected by such change.
The Courts over the years have passed numerous decisions on the question of occasions on which a Notice of Change may be issued and when it need not be issued. For E.g. – In T Rajamanickam V/s Binny Limited, Madras (2009) The Hon’ble Madras High Court held that reduction in the emoluments of a workman, which was not envisaged in the settlement between Management and the workers and was done without notice was ex facie against Section 9A.
Sudden withdrawal of overtime benefits without notice, change in overtime allowance rates, withdrawal or reduction in project allowance, change in commencement of working hours, increasing hours of work, change in weekly holiday, withdrawal or reduction of medical benefits, reducing retirement age of workers, discontinuance of bus facility, retrenchment of workers due to installation of new machinery, without notice etc have all been seen by the Hon’ble High Courts and Hon’ble Supreme Court to be violative of Section 9A of the Act.
On this background, Maruti’s decision to bring in robots to replace workmen may be challenged in the Court of law by workers. Introducing automation will certainly require a Notice of Change under Industrial Disputes Act.