Differential timings for employees permissible: SC

A Bench of Justices Markandeya Katju and Gyan Sudha Mishra said in a judgement that such differential timings can be adopted by the government to face competition from the private sector and courts should not interfere in such executive function.

The apex court further said if the aggrieved employees had agreed to the timings at the time of their appointment, they cannot retract from the assurance.

"In our opinion, fixing of hours of work, provided they do not violate any statutory provision or statutory rule, are really management functions and this court must exercise restraint and not ordinarily interfere with such management functions."

"It is not prudent or pragmatic for the court to insist on absolute equality when there are diverse situations and contingencies, as in the present case. In view of the inherent complexities involved in modern society, some free play must be given to the executive authorities in this connection," Justices Katju said.

The apex court passed the judgement while dismissing the appeal of Transport & Dock Workers Union & others challenging the differential timings fixed by the Mumbai Port Trust for Typist-cum-Computer Clerks.According to the union, those appointed prior to November 1,1996, have to work for six and half hours a day, whereas others appointed subsequently have to work for seven and half hours (excluding lunch break). This, it was alleged, violates Article 14 of Constitution.

The Trust, however, defended the differential timings saying it was done essentially to deal with growing competition from the private sector and also with the consent of those appointed after November 1,1996.

The apex court said "if the law or the practise deals equally with members of a well-defined class, it is not obnoxious and it is not open to the charge of denial of equal protection on the ground that it has no application to other persons.

"In the present case, as we have noted, the purpose of the classification was to make the activities of the port competitive and efficient. With the introduction of privatisation and setting up private ports, the respondent had to face competition," the Bench said.
The apex court said the policy cannot be said to have caused any prejudice to the employees as they were clearly told about the working hours prior to the appointment.
"In our opinion, the introduction of the new policy was a bona fide decision of the port and the acceptance of the conditions with open eyes by the appellants and the recruits after 1.11.1996 means that they can now have no grievance. It is well settled that courts should not ordinarily interfere with policy decisions.

"Excessive interference by the judiciary in the functions of the executive is not proper. Those who entered service after 1.11.1996 knew that they have to work for seven and half hours, excluding lunch break, and with open eyes they accepted the employment. Hence, there is no question of violation of Article 14 of the Constitution," the Bench said.
It said "Article 14 of the Constitution (the equality provision) is a slippery slope and a fine balancing act must be done by the court to avoid slipping down the slope."

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