The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Unruly workers, beware of sack

New Delhi, March 7: Employees beware, the Supreme Court is watching.

In the latest in a series of similar judgments passed in the past month, the highest court of the land has upheld the sacking of a confirmed labourer with the Madhya Pradesh Electricity Board for assaulting a superior, who was a sub-engineer.

The bench of Justices N. Santosh Hegde, Tarun Chatterjee and P.K. Balasubramanyan ruled on March 4 that 'when an employee breaches discipline resulting in his dismissal, the labour court or an industrial tribunal cannot take a contrary view and award lesser punishment'.

The apex court has in the past month upheld the dismissals of an employee for sleeping during office hours; two others for beating up their superiors; and another for using 'filthy and abusive' language against a senior officer.

In the instant case, the bench said: 'Discipline at the workplace in an organisation was sine qua non for the efficient working of the organisation. Obedience to authority in a workplace is not slavery.

'When an employee breaches such discipline and the employer terminates his services, it is not open to a labour court or an industrial tribunal to take the view that the punishment awarded is shockingly disproportionate to the charge proved.'

'Obedience', the bench added, was not 'violative of one's natural rights'. 'It is essential for the prosperity of the organisation as well as that of its employees.'

In all the judgments, the bench reasoned that 'dismissal is not disproportionate to the charge of indiscipline made out', and reversed the orders of lower courts that awarded lesser punishments like slashing a hike in pay or dearness allowance or denying promotion.

Courts have so far been taking the stand that dismissal would infringe on the fundamental 'right to life' guaranteed under Article 21. They have been giving punishments short of dismissal.

But the apex court in its judgment on the sleeping employee observed that ever since market economy was ushered in, the government was concentrating only on governance and not on business and trade, in which private enterprises were engaged.

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