- This legal case involves a group of seven former salesmen employed by Bata India Ltd, a footwear manufacturing company. In 2007, the company modified its operating hours for showrooms in Mumbai, Thane, and Pune, requiring them to be open seven days a week with extended hours. Some salespersons opposed the altered working hours and lack of a designated weekly holiday, resulting in their termination by Bata.
- The terminated salesmen filed complaints under Section 28(1) of the Maharashtra Recognition of Trade Unions and Prevention of Unfair Labour Practices Act 1971 (MRTU & PULP Act) before the Labour Court. The Labour Court ruled in favor of the salesmen, considering them ‘workmen’ under the Industrial Disputes Act, and awarded reinstatement with 50 percent back wages. The industrial court upheld this decision.
- Bata challenged the decision, arguing that the salesmen were not workmen and, therefore, the Labour Court had no jurisdiction over the dispute. The primary contention was that the salesmen were ‘sales promotion employees’ and did not fit the definition of ‘workman’ involving manual, unskilled, skilled, technical, operational, or clerical work.
- The Bombay High Court rejected Bata’s argument, considering the various duties and responsibilities outlined in the standing orders and regulations formulated by Bata. The court concluded that the multifaceted duties, including customer service, cash handling, administrative tasks, and quality control, indicated that the salesmen could be considered ‘workmen’ under the provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act.
- The court found that Bata had terminated the salesmen without conducting any inquiry into the alleged misconduct, deeming the terminations illegal. While the court refused to reinstate the salesmen after 16 years, it awarded compensation ranging from 19.5 lakhs to 33 lakhs to each affected salesman, representing approximately 75 percent of their back wages for the last 16 years.
- In summary, the Bombay High Court upheld the salesmen’s status as workmen, declared their terminations illegal, and ordered Bata to pay compensation to each affected salesman within four months, along with 8 percent per annum interest if not provided within the stipulated period.
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