1. In this writ petition presented by the workman questioning the legality of the order made by the Labour Court, Chandigarh, dismissing the reference made under Section 10 of the Industrial Disputes Act, (hereinafter called the Act), for non-prosecution, the following question of law arises for consideration:-
"Whether the Labour Court can dismiss a reference for non- prosecution on the ground that the workman concerned was absent on the date of hearing, without adjudicating upon the point of dispute referred to it on merits and passing an award".
2. The brief facts of the case are these. The petitioner raised a dispute that the termination of his services by the second respondent was not justified. The State Government in exercise of the powers under Section 10 of the Act, referred the dispute for industrial adjudication. The point of dispute referred for adjudication reads :-
"Whether the services of Shri K.K. Rattan were terminated illegally by the management of M/s. Punjab State Handloom and Textile Development Corporation Ltd., Chandigarh? If so, to what effect and to what relief he is entitled to, if any?"
The State Government made the order dated March 15, 1990. After the reference was received by the Labour Court and notices were issued to the parties, the petitioner filed his claim statement on May, 1990. It appears that the management did not appear and did not file the written statement Consequently it was proceeded ex parte. Later on, that order was set aside and the management also filed its written statement on merits. Thereafter, when the reference came up for hearing on February 19, 1991, the Labour Court passed the following order:-
"Case called number of times during the day. It is 2.15 P.M. The reference is hereby dismissed for want of prosecution on behalf of petitioner. Hie appropriate Government be informed."
Thereafter on July 19, 1991, the petitioner-workman filed an application praying for setting aside the ex parte order dated February 19, 1991. That application was, however, dismissed on the ground that the petitioner had not shown sufficient cause for setting aside the ex parte order. Therefore, the petitioner has presented this writ petition.
3. The contention of the petitioner is that when a reference is made under Section 10 of the Act to the Labour Court, having regard to the scheme of the Act, the Labour Court is bound to answer the reference on merits, but it cannot be dismissed for default or for non-prosecution. The learned counsel for the respondent, however, contended that when the workman, at whose instance the reference was made, remained absent, there was nothing further to be done by the Labour Court and, therefore, the Labour Court was justified in dismissing the reference. It is these rival contentions that have given rise to the question which we have set out in the first paragraph of this order.
4. In order to appreciate the contention, it is necessary to refer to the relevant provisions of the Act. Industrial Disputes Act is a special enactment enacted for providing machinery for resolving industrial disputes. Section 10 of the Act confers power on the State to refer an industrial dispute for industrial adjudication to the Labour Court or the Industrial Tribunal, as the case may be. Section 2A of the Act, which was introduced by the amending Act No. 35 of 1965, made an individual dispute relating to dismissal, removal or termination of service in any manner of a workman, an industrial dispute and consequently, such dispute could be raised by the workman. Section 14 of the Act is of material importance to the question arising for consideration. It reads :
"A Court shall inquire into the matter referred to it and report thereon to the appropriate Government ordinarily within a period of six months from the commencement of its inquiry."
As can be seen from the language of the above section, when a dispute is referred to a Labour Court, it becomes the duty of a tribunal to adjudicate a reference and to make an award. The word "award" is defined under Section 2(b) of the Act. It reads:-
"award" means an interim or final determination of any Industrial Dispute or any question relating thereto by any Labour Court, Industrial Tribunal or National Industrial Tribunal and includes an arbitration award under Section 10A."
Therefore, when Section 15 provides that an award shall be made by the Tribunal when a dispute has been referred to it, it means, it has to decide the reference on merits. There is no power conferred upon the Tribunal to simply dismiss a reference for non-prosecution. In a given case if a workman remains absent, it becomes the duty of the Tribunal to consider the claim statement filed by the workman as well as the written statement filed by the management and any other record which is made available to the Labour Court and it should answer the point of dispute referred to it on merits. In this behalf Section 11A of the Act is of considerable significance. That section confers power on the Labour Court to modify the penalty of dismissal, removal or termination of services to a lessor one, if the Labour Court or the Tribunal is of the view that having regard to the gravity of the charges held to have been proved against the workman, the punishment imposed was excessive. This question, the Tribunal has to determine even in the absence of the workman. Our view receives support from an earlier Division Bench judgment to this Court in Technological Institute of Textiles, Bhiwani v. Labour Court, Rohtak 1989 II CLR 379. In the said case, a Division Bench of this Court held that even if the workman is absent, the Labour Court cannot be absolved of its duty to resolve the dispute referred to it, on merits. The Division Bench further observed that a Labour Court is bound to proceed and decide the matter on merits even if the applicant absents himself. It should also be pointed out that a dispute referred under Section 10 of the Act to the Labour Court cannot be equated with a civil suit filed in a Civil Court which can be dismissed for non- prosecution by the plaintiff. A Tribunal gets the jurisdiction to adjudicate an industrial dispute on a reference made to it under Section 10 of the Act and the duty required to be performed by it is incorporated in Section 15 of the Act whereunder it has to answer a reference on merits.
5. For the aforesaid reasons, we answer the question as set out in the first paragraph as follows:-
" A Labour Court cannot dismiss a reference for non- prosecution on the ground that the workman concerned was absent on the date of hearing without adjudicating upon the point of dispute referred to it on merits and passing an award.' Accordingly, we make the following order:-
"The writ petition is allowed. The impugned order of the Labour Court is set aside and Labour Court is directed to decide the reference on merits. Both the parties are directed to appear before the Labour Court on September 21, 1992 without any further notice from the Labour Court Office is directed to dispatch this order to the Labour Court forthwith."