Chennai: Can a mere expression of regret by employees be construed as admission of guilt and the worker concerned be dismissed from service? No, the Madras high court has ruled.
Justice KK Sasidharan, directing the reinstatement of three industrial workers dismissed from service 17 years ago, said: “Admission (of guilt), to be used against the maker, should be clear, unambiguous, unequivocal and without any scope for two interpretations. It should lead to a clear conclusion of admission.”
The judge was passing orders on the writ petitions of three persons, who had challenged a labour court order upholding their dismissal from service.
Justice Sasidharan also flayed the Tiruchi labour court for having adopted a “strange” and “novel” procedure of marking statements without the concurrence of the parties, and faulted the forum for having concluded that their dismissal was fair as they had “admitted” to their role in an industrial unrest in 1997.
In 1992, a Viralimalai- based company introduced an incentive scheme, which was perceived as non-beneficial to workmen. There was an industrial disturbance and production came to a standstill. Three union leaders — R Govindarajan, M Rajadurai and P Kanagaraj — held talks with the employees and then convinced them to return to work. By the time the workers decided to return to work, half a day’s production was affected, and the management held them responsible for the unrest.
Replying to show-cause notices, the three explained the sequence of events and, at the end of their reply, expressed their regret. Treating the expression of regret as admission of guilt, the management dismissed them from service, without notice or inquiry.
In January 1996, the Tiruchi labour court upheld their dismissal.
Justice Sasidharan, reiterating that there should be an “express declaration” to qualify as admission of guilt, said, “it is not possible to infer admission from a statement.”
It will be cruel to allege that these three union leaders incited the employees when it was they who urged the workers to resume work, the judge said, adding that the management was determined to terminate the services of these union leaders.
Though payment of backwages is not automatic in case of an order of reinstatement, Justice Sasidharan directed the company to pay full backwages and other attendant benefits for the entire 17-year period. In this regard, he pointed out that the petitioners were out of employment for 17 years and that they were not gainfully employed elsewhere. There was no history of misconduct alleged against them and the company is making profits, he said.
Under these circumstances, the company shall reinstate the three in service and pay them full backwages and continuity of service within two months, the judge said.