lawyers in India

Strikes and Lockouts

Written by: Sonakshi Verma - Presently Studying in 3rd Year - Dr Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University Lucknow
Constitutional Lawyers in India
Legal Service
  • Implications
    In any Industrial endeavour co-operation of labour and capital is quite essential for its success, although they have interests contrary to each other. They have different strategies and weapons to ventilate their grievances and safeguard their interests. These democratic weapons often used by them are strikes and lock-outs. Just as strike is a weapon available to employees for enforcing their Industrial demands, a lock-out is a weapon available to the employer to persuade by a coercive process to see his point of view and to accept his demands. In the struggle between capital and labour, as the weapon of strike is available to labour and is often used by it, so is the weapon of lock-out available to the employer and can be used by him.

    Strike is one of the oldest and the most effective weapons of labour in its struggle with capital for securing economic justice. The basic strength of a strike lies in the labours privilege to quit work and thus brings a forced readjustment of conditions of employment[5]. It owes its origin to old English words Striken to go. In common parlance it means hit, impress, occur to, to quit work on a trade dispute. The latter meaning is traceable to 1768. Later on it varied to strike of work. The composite idea of quitting work or withdrawal of work as a coercive act could be gathered in the use of word as a verb as well as adjective. The definition and use of the word strike has been undergoing constant transformation around the basic concept of stoppage of work or putting of work by employees in their economic struggle with capital[6].

    The term strike has been defined in a wide variety of branches of human knowledge, viz. etymology, sociology, political economy, law and political science
    Strike has been defined in Section 2 (q) of the Industrial Disputes Act as under—
    Strike means a cessation of work by a body of persons employed in any industry acting in combination, or a concerted refusal, or a refusal under a common understanding, of any number of persons who are or have been so employed to continue to work or to accept employment.

    The analysis of the definition would show that there are the following essential requirements for the existence of a strike:
    (1) There must be cessation of work.
    (2) The cessation of work must be by a body of persons employed in any industry;
    (3) The strikers must have been acting in combination;
    (4) The strikers must be working in any establishment which can be called industry within the meaning of Section 2(j); or
    (5) There must be a concerted refusal; or
    (6) Refusal under a common understanding of any number of persons who are or have been so employed to continue to work or to accept employment;
    (7) They must stop work for some demands relating to employment, non-employment or the terms of employment or the conditions of labour of the workmen.

    Ingredients of Strike
    Cessation of Work:-
    This is most significant characteristic of the concept of strike. It has been variedly expressed as abandonment, stoppage, omission of performance of duties of their posts, hampering or reducing normal works, hindrance to the working or suspension of work, discontinuing the employment or breaking their contract of service or refusing or failing to return to or resume employment or refusing or failing to accept engagement for any work which they are usually employed for[7]. Thus what required for strike is that there must be stoppage of work or there must be refusal to continue to work or to accept employment by any number of persons employed for the work but the refusal must be concerted or under a common understanding.The cessation of work may take any form. It must, however, be temporary and not for ever and it must be voluntary. No duration can be fixed for this. If the cessation of work is as a result of renunciation of work or relinquishment of the strikers status or relationship, it is not strike. Permanent cessation of work would result in termination of the contract of work which is alien to the underlying sanction of strike retaining contractual relationship during the strike periods. Cessation of work is not a cessation of contract of employment.

    Concerted action
    Another important ingredient of the strike is a concerted action. The workers must act under a common understanding. The cessation of work by a body of persons employed in any industry in combination is a strike. Thus in a strike it must be proved that there was cessation of work or stoppage of work under a common understanding or it was a concerted action of the workers or there was cessation of work by workers acting in combination. Stoppage of work by workers individually does not amount to strike. the concerted refusal or refusal under a common understanding to continue to work or to accept employment or to resume work by any number of persons is a strike. One thing must be kept in mind that the refusal of work means refusal to perform duties which the workers are required to perform. If the workers are at liberty to do a particular work or not to do a work their refusal to work does not amount to strike. For example, over-time work, if it is the duty or workers to do overtime work necessarily because it is the practice of that establishment to take overtime work from the workers in that case refusal to work overtime would amount to strike otherwise not. Thus the test to determine whether refusal to do overtime work constitutes a strike or not would depend upon whether overtime was habitually worked in that industry.[8]

    The strike is illegal

    1. if it is in breach of Contract of Employment.
    2. if it is in Public Utility Services.
    3. if Notice under Section 22(1) is not given.
    4. if commenced during Award or settlement period.
    5. if commenced During or within 7 days of completion of Conciliation Proceedings.
    6. if commenced During or within Two months of completion of Adjudication Proceedings.


    The use of the term lock-out to describe employer's instruments of economic coercion dates back to 1860[9] and is younger[10] than its counterparts in the hands of workers, strike by one hundred years. Formerly the instrument of lock-out was resorted to by an employer or group of employers to ban union membership: the employers refused

    employment to workers who did not sign a pledge not to belong to trade union. later the lock-out was declared generally by a body of employers against a strike at a particular work by closing all factories until strikers returned to work[11]. India witnessed lock-out twenty-five years after the "lock-out" was known and used in the arena of labour management relations in industrially advanced countries. Karnik reports that the first.

    known lock-out was declared in 1895 in Budge Budge Jute Mills[12]. Section 2(1) defines the term Lock-out. However, the present definition is only a mutilated one. The term was originally and correctly defined in the Trade Dispute Act, 1929. From the definition given in the Trade Dispute Act, the present Act has taken the present definition but has omitted the words when such closing, suspension or refusal occurs in consequences of a dispute and is intended for the purpose of compelling those persons or of aid in another Employer in compelling persons employed by him to accept terms or condition of, or affecting employment.
    With the omission of these words, the present definition fails to convey the very concept of Lock-out. In Sri Ramchandra Spinning Mills v/s State of Madras[13], the Madras High Court read the deleted portion in the definition to interpret the term lock-out. According to the Court, a flood may have swept away the factory, a fire may have gutted the premises; a convulsion of nature may have sucked the whole place under ground; still if the place of employment is closed or the work is Suspended or the Employer refuses to continue to employ his previous workers, there would be a lock out and the Employer would find himself exposed to the penalties laid down in the Act. Obviously, it shows that the present definition does not convey the concept of the term lock out.

    Lock-out, When Legal

    The Act treats strikes and lock-out on the same basis; it treats one as the counter part of the other. (Mohammed Sumsuddin), the circumstances under which the legislature has banned strike, it has also at the Same time banned the lock-out. Thus what holds good-bad; legal-illegal, justified unjustified for strikes, holds the same for the lock-out. As such, the provisions of the Act which prohibit the strike also prohibits the lock-out.

    The object and reasons for which the Lock-out are banned or prohibited are the same for which strikes are banned or prohibited. It is because the Employer and the Employees are not discriminated in their respective rights in the field of industrial relationship between the two. As such, lock-out if not in conflict with Section 22 and 23 may be said to be legal or not legal. Sections 24(1) (iii), 10(3) and 10A (4A) similarly controls the lock-out. A lock-out in consequence of illegal strike is not deemed to be illegal. But if lock-out is illegal, Section 26(2), 27 and 28 will come in operation to deal with the situation. The Act does not lay down any guidelines to settle the claims arising out of illegal lock-out. The courts, therefore, have adopted the technique of apportioning the blame between the Employer and employees. This once again brings to the fore the concept of justifiability of lock-out.

    The Statutory Definition

    Section 2(1) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 defines Lock-out to mean: The temporary closing of employment or the suspension of work, or the refusal by an employer to continue to employ any number of persons employed by him[14]. A delineation of the nature of this weapon of industrial warfare requires description of: (i) the acts which constitute it; (ii) the party who uses it; (iii) the party against whom it is directed; and (iv) the motive which prompts resort to it.

    Prohibition of Lockout

    In the similar circumstances the lockout has been prohibited in the public utility service. Section 22 (2) of the Act provides that no employer carrying on any public utility service shall lock out any of his workmen:
    1.Without giving them notice of lockout as hereinafter provided, within six weeks before locking out; or
    2.Within 14 days of giving notice; or
    3.Before the expiry of the day of lockout specified in any such notice as aforesaid; or
    4.During the pendency of any conciliation proceedings before a Conciliation Officer and seven days after the conclusion of such proceedings.

    It makes clear that the employer has to comply with the same conditions before he declares lockout in his industrial establishment which the workmen are required to comply with before they go on strike. The conditions for both the parties are same.

    India in the present context of economic development programmes cannot afford the unqualified right to the workers to strike or to the employer to lock-out. Compulsory arbitration as an alternative of collective bargaining has come to stay. The adoption of compulsory arbitration does not, however, necessarily mean denial of the right to strike or stifling of trade union movement. If the benefits of legislation, settlements and awards are to reach the individual worker, not only the trade union movement has to be encouraged and its outlook broadened but the laws have also be suitably tailored. The existing legislation and Judicial pronouncements lack breadth of vision. Indeed, the statutory definitions of strike and lock-out have been rendered worse by a system of interpretation which is devoid of policy-oriented approach and which lays undue stress on semantics. The discussion of the concepts and definition of strike has sought to establish
    that legalistic consideration has frequently weighed with the court in interpreting and expounding the said statutory definition: We believe that emphasis on literal interpretation resulted in ignoring the ordinarily understood connotation of the term strike and in encouraging undesirable activity. We now pass on to acts which constitute strike. Unlike the Industrial Relations Bill, 1978 the three phrases used in the definition of "strike" in IDA are not qualified by the expression total or partial. Further, they do not specifically take into account go-slow. The Courts have accordingly excluded go-slow from the purview of strike. However, the exclusion of go-slow from the ambit of "strike" throws them open to the third party suits for damages.

    Written Sources:-
    1. Kumar H.L, Labour Problems & Remedies, 8th Edn.
    2. Mishra, S.N, Labour and Industrial Laws 24th Edn.
    3. Malik P.L, Labour and Industrial Law 11th Edn.
    4. G.B. Pai, Labour Law in India, Vol. 1
    5. Dr. V.G. Goswami, Labour & Industrial Laws, 8th Ed., Central Law Agency
    6. Dr. Avtar Singh & Dr. Harpreet Kaur, Introduction to Labour & Industrial Law, 2nd Ed., 2008, Lexis-Nexis Butterworths Wadhwa Nagpur
    7. Ludwig Teller, Labour Disputes and Collective Bargaining, Vol 1

    Web References:-

    [1] G.M. Kothari, A study of Industrial Law, p. 144
    [2] The first recorded use of the phrase "to strike work" occured in 1768, at the begining of industrial Revolution see Knowles, Strikes • A Study of Industrial Conflicts, 1952, p.p. 2-3.
    [3] see Encyclopaedia Brl1annica, (1959) p. 467.
    [4] Ibid
    [5] G.M. Kothari, A study of Industrial Law, p. 144
    [6] G.M. Kothari, Labour Demands and Their Adjudication, pp.200-202.
    [7] G.M. Kothari, Labour Demands, p. 202.
    [8] G.M Kothari ,loc cit p 206
    [9] The first recorded use of the phrase "to strike work" occured in 1768, at the begining of industrial Revolution see Knowles, Strikes • A Study of Industrial
    Conflicts, 1952, p.p. 2-3.
    [10] see Encyclopaedia Brl1annica, (1959) p. 467.
    [11] Ibid
    [12] V..B. Karnik, Strikes in india, 1967,pp. 13-14citing the Bengal Administration Report
    (1995-96). Another Iock-out of which reference is found is that of the one declared in Buckingham and Carnatic Milia in 1968, see V.B.Karnikop. cI1.,p. 97.
    [13] 1957 I LLJ 90
    [14] The Industrial Disputes (Amendment) Act, 1982provides that in section 2(1) for. the words "closing of a place of employment" the words "temporary closing of a place of employment" be substituted

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