Bombay High Court Interpretation of 'Supervisory Work'

author Nischala Maruvada

calender April 29, 2024

Bombay High Court Interprets the Meaning of 'Supervisory Work' Under the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947

In a recent judgment of “Godrej and Boyce Manufacturing Co. Ltd v. Shivkranti Kamgar Sanghatana, dated March 28, 2024, the High Court of Bombay (“High Court”) resolved a dispute between the company establishment and the trade union arising from an order issued by the Industrial Tribunal, Satara (“Tribunal”) in 2016. While exercising its writ jurisdiction, the High Court accentuated that the determination of an employee's status as a workman should predominantly consider the nature of the actual work performed. The petitioner in this case invoked the High Court’s jurisdiction under Articles 226 and 227 of the Indian Constitution, seeking relief from the order issued by the Tribunal which had classified 20 individuals as workmen under the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 (“Act”).


The petitioner, a renowned Indian company specializing in the manufacture of office and home furniture, as well as electrical appliances like refrigerators and washing machines, operates a manufacturing plant in the Satara district known as the “Interio Division”. The respondent is a trade union representing the workforce employed at the same manufacturing plant in Satara. In 2015, the respondent raised a list of demands on behalf of the employees working in the Interio Division, seeking an increase in wages, along with other benefits and emoluments. The petitioner countered, arguing that these individuals did not qualify as workmen and therefore were not eligible for any wage hike or supplementary benefits. Following failed conciliation efforts, the dispute was referred to the Tribunal. Subsequently, the Tribunal ruled that these individuals were indeed considered workmen under the provisions of the Act. Aggrieved by the order of the Tribunal, the petitioner filed a writ petition challenging the impugned order in the High Court.


The issue before the High Court in the present case is whether the Tribunal was correct in holding the respondent workers as ‘workmen’ within the meaning of Section 2(s) of the Act.

Contention of the Petitioner

  1. That the tasks assigned to the workers in question were administrative, managerial and/or supervisory in nature.
  2. The Tribunal erroneously concluded that the respondent workers could not be categorized as supervisory or managerial personnel solely based on their technical qualifications (ITI certification).
  3. Despite respondent workers’ involvement in managerial and supervisory responsibilities as specified in their appointment letters, they remained integral members of the management within the petitioner organization due to the nature of their duties.

Contention of the Respondent

  1. The Tribunal suitably applied the appropriate criteria and accurately determined that the employees in question met the criteria of “workmen” as defined in Section 2(s) of the Act.
  2. The respondent workers possessed ITI qualifications obtained after successfully passing the 10th standard examination and were engaged at the lowest tier within the petitioner organization.
  3. Summarizing the preceding two contentions, it becomes evident that employees were undertaking tasks similar to those of workers. Therefore, the High Court’s invocation of its authority under Articles 226 and 227 of the Indian Constitution to interfere with the order of the Tribunal was uncalled for.

Findings of the High Court

The High Court referred to the judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the matter of H.R. Adyanthaya & Ors. v. Sandoz (India) Limited, wherein it was held that for an individual to qualify as a workman under the Act, his/her employment must involve manual, unskilled, skilled, technical, operational, clerical, or supervisory tasks. The High Court further observed that the actual functions performed by the employee should be taken into consideration for determining the status of such employee and that the salary and designation are irrelevant if his/her tasks align with those summarized in section 2(s) of the Act.

The High Court, while considering the materials placed on record observed the uncertainty in the workers' appointment letters regarding their duties. Relying on testimonies from various witnesses, the High Court observed that the employees were categorized in the K-Band, the lowest tier within the petitioner organization, and worked under the supervision of higher-ranking band members. The respondents were never authorized to approve leaves or participate in policy-making or other managerial tasks. They were not provided with basic work amenities such as desks or chairs and were required to work in rotating shifts. Their primary responsibilities involved machine operation and manual labor. Given their placement in the lowest organizational tier, the employees could not be considered as engaging in managerial or supervisory roles.

Upon recording these findings, the High Court was assured regarding the status of the respondent employees within the petitioner organization, affirming that they had indeed undertaken manual, skilled, and/or unskilled tasks.


The High Court upholding the Tribunal's decision held that the employees in question meet the criteria for classification as "workmen" under section 2(s) of the Act. The judgment highlights that the status of a workman is determined by the nature of the duties performed by an employee as opposed to their salary or designation. Employers are warned against exploiting any worker by bypassing their obligations towards workers by appointing them in managerial or administrative roles in the garb of manual responsibilities. Furthermore, the High Court clarified the definition of “supervision”, explaining that it pertains to the supervision of human beings, rather than machines. Therefore, the tasks involving oversight of machines fall within the ambit of work categorized under section 2(s) of the Act, and individuals performing such tasks are considered “workmen”.

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