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Illegal strike is unauthorised absence: SC
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 18
In an important order on a labour issue, the Supreme Court has differentiated between legal and illegal strikes, saying those resorting to the latter could be punished for unauthorised absence.

This ruling was given by a Bench comprising Ms Justice Ruma Pal and Mr Justice B.P. Singh while allowing an appeal filed by the UP State Bridge Corporation challenging a verdict of the Allahabad High Court ordering reinstatement of 168 workers whose services were terminated for remaining absent from work for over eight months despite repeated notices.

The UP Rajya Setu Nigam Karmachari Sangh had approached the high court, challenging the termination, saying the workers were on illegal strike and the high court had held that going on illegal strike did not mean abandonment of service.

Justice Pal, writing for the Bench, said the submission that a person on illegal strike did not abandon his job was erroneous. “An illegal strike cannot by definition be ‘authorised absence’,” she added.

Justice Pal said the specific exclusion of persons on illegal strike plainly meant that the period a person was on illegal strike did not amount to service.

“Different considerations would no doubt prevail where the strike is legal. Workers on strike continue to be in service although they may have ceased work,” she said.

The court said if the strike were a legal one, such cessation of work or refusal to continue would be absence authorised by law.

“Clearly, a person on illegal strike and a person on legal strike are both ‘absent’, but the absence of the first is unauthorised and the second is not,” the Bench said.

Referring to the case in hand, it said that the corporation had issued two notices calling upon the workmen represented by the karmachari sangh to return to duty and the workmen did not respond to either of them.

The apex court also rejected the sangh’s contention that as there was penalty for going on illegal strike, their services could not be terminated.

The Bench said there was no proof that the workers went on illegal strike. “Merely because the action is punishable does not mean that the consequence of an unauthorised absence is not available under the Certified Standing Orders if it so specifically provides,” it added.

However, the court clarified that its order would not preclude the sangh to raise an industrial dispute under the Act, if it was so permitted.

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