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Karnataka: HC Directs Labour Dept to Pass Ruling on Sacked ITI Workers Within 2 Months

The court has also ordered the ITI management to clear all dues and arrears of the sacked contract workers.

Bengaluru: The Karnataka High Court has directed the Indian Telephone Industries (ITI) Ltd. to go into conciliation proceedings with the Karnataka General Labour Union (KGLU) seeking reinstatement of terminated workers. The court also instructed the chief labour commissioner to judge the case within eight weeks. 

Around 120 workers were removed without notice on December 1, 2021, by ITI Ltd. Subsequently, the Karnataka General Labour Union filed a complaint with the labour department against the termination of contract workers. In court filings, the union has alleged that there was no trouble with the management until the workers formed a union and demanded that they be paid wages during the lockdown. They have alleged that the company withheld their wages for two months between April and May 2020. 

ITI Ltd. is a public sector company which is in the business of manufacturing Information and Communication Technology (ICT) products. As per company records, 98% of their orders originate from other government departments. Some of the terminated workers have been with the company for 38 years.

Represented by Clifton Rozario and Maitreyi Krishnan of the All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU), 80 workers have filed a writ petition in the High Court seeking reinstatement. They have also asked to resume work in their posts until permanent employees are hired or until their claim of regularisation (in the labour department) is successful. 

The manner of termination is also noteworthy. While the contractor was changed regularly, the employment status of the contract workers remained the same. They were not required to process new documents when there was a contractor change.

The workers say that in 2020, their contractor was Poojyaya Security Services. When the contract expired on November 30, 2021, the workers were not notified of the development. Instead, they were barred from entering the premises from the next day. They were told that the contractor had been changed and that they were no longer employees of ITI Ltd. After the intervention of KGLU, the company went for the reconciliation proceedings. There was an interim agreement not to hire new contract workers to perform the same roles as the terminated employees.

The High Court observed that ITI Ltd. had engaged other contract workers despite an agreement not to do so. The court also observed that the counsel for ITI Ltd. has not placed any documents on record on time. This resulted in many delays.

The management contends that there is no employer-employee relationship between the petitioners and ITI Ltd. In their submission to the court, they argue that the petitioner union (KGLU) is not a recognised union and has been set up only to “harass” the company. It also states that the interim arrangement (not to hire additional contract workers) was “not binding”.

As is quite common these days, the management also argued that the contractor was the employer, and since he had not been made a party to the dispute, the present proceedings were “not maintainable”. The company revealed that on January 15, 2022 (i.e. 45 days after sacking the KGLU union workers), the new contractor (Sai Communications) deployed 149 contract workers at ITI Ltd.

During the reconciliation proceedings, there was an agreement by the management to bring in 35 workers and that the rest would be absorbed in a phased manner. Sai Communications has also consented to hire all 80 workers, provided ITI Ltd. has no objections. However, the management has refused to reinstate the workers. In court filings, the union alleges that this is now an “ego issue” of the ITI management. 

The Karnataka High Court issued an order on April 18, 2023, whereby the labour commissioner was directed to pass judgement on the pending disputes within two months. In separate cases about denial of payment during the lockdown and other arrears, the court also sided with the workers and ordered all payments by ITI Ltd. before July 15, 2023. 

The workers have been in protest since December 1, 2021.

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