The Delhi High Court has set aside an order passed by the Industrial Tribunal which increased the age of retirement or superannuation of workers of the Indian Express from 58 years to 60 years, with effect from 15th October, 2009.

The Court noted that while the Tribunal did exercise its jurisdiction correctly, it considered irrelevant materials and made an irrational order.

In that context, the Bench of Justice Anish Dayal observed that, "The Industrial Tribunal...does not sit in an easy arm-chair for the purposes of this assessment, and merely on extremely slim and lightweight reasons reach a finding that the retirement age ought to be increased. Increase in retirement age has a vast and far-reaching impact on the establishment and the manner in which it runs its own business and plans for future. Increasing the retirement age across all cadres of employees in a large establishment involves a very high economic impact and therefore, it is necessary to analyze it threadbare, assess comprehensively on various relevant parameters."

In furtherance of the same, it was observed that, "this Court is of the opinion that even while the Industrial Tribunal was correct in the exercise of its jurisdiction, it did not exercise its jurisdiction in the proper manner, considered irrelevant materials, ignored or did not requisition relevant materials, made an irrational, fragile, perfunctory and cursory assessment in order to reach its conclusion. Clearly, this necessitates interference in the supervisory and extraordinary jurisdiction of this Court. The Industrial Tribunal ignored all the established parameters for revising the service conditions/ wages of an establishment".

Counsel NB Joshi and Counsel Sahil appeared for the petitioner, while Senior Counsel Colin Gonsalves, along with others, appeared for the respondents.

In this case, the dispute had arisen when The Indian Express Group contested an Industrial Tribunal's order issued on July 31, 2023. The order required the group to raise the retirement age to 60 years, along with associated benefits, effective from October 15, 2009. The Tribunal had instructed the group to implement the order within sixty days, warning of interest payments if they failed to comply.

The High Court illustratively listed a few parameters for if comparison, if at all, had to be made with other institutions. In that context, the Court noted, "relative standing, extent of the labour force, extent of respective customers, profits and losses for a few years, financial position, productive capacity, wage structure in neighboring industries, inflexibility or flexibility of retirement age, totality of the basic wage structure, additional liability which would be imposed upon the employer, consideration whether the employer would be able to bear it for a sufficient period in the future, and the different classes of employees for which it is sought to be employed."

It was observed that the mentioned parameters and others become necessary for any assessment which has a large financial impact.

With that background, it was said that, "Needless to say, if it was an issue that was so obvious, the retirement age would have been increased to 60 years across the board for this establishment and others. The Industrial Tribunal has also erred in taking the option of extendibility of the retirement age from 58 to 60 years in other newspaper establishments, as a fixed retirement age of 60 years. There is a clear difference between a fixed retirement age and the option of extending the same by 2 years based on the health, performance, and other factors relating to the employee. Importantly it is noted, that existing Model Standing Order still defines the age of superannuation at 58 years. Therefore, displacing the same in its application to the establishment, necessitates proper consideration of materials, keeping in view above-mentioned observations and findings. This is further necessitated in view of the fact that an application for adducing additional evidence was made by the respondent herein which was subsequently rejected by the Tribunal".

Accordingly, the impugned order was set aside and the matter was remanded to the Industrial Tribunal for fresh adjudication after considering all materials which may be placed by the parties in detail to be examined with a fresh nuanced outlook and robust reasoning.

Cause Title: The Indian Express P Ltd. vs The Indian Express Newspapers Workers Union Regd. & Anr.

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