KARACHI: The Sindh High Court (SHC) on Monday declared that the Industrial Relations Act (IRA) 2012, which permits workmen the fundamental right to form labour unions, was a valid piece of legislation.
The court ruled that federal legislature was competent to enact IRA 2012 which was the only forum for labours to seek remedy with regard to any industrial dispute arising in trans-provincial industrial and commercial establishments having branches in more than one province.
Larger bench of SHC, headed by Acting Chief Justice Faisal Arab announced 26-page long verdict on more than 50 petitions that challenged the IRA enacted by the federal government.
It was argued in the petitions that the Act impinged upon the provincial autonomy after the passage of 18th constitutional amendment, adding that after the 18th amendment, labour was a provincial subject.
According to the petitioners, which included the managements of K-Electric, SSGC and other companies, in the post-18th amendment scenario, IRA is ultra vires of the Constitution as the subjects it covers (formation of trade unions and settlement of industrial disputes) fall within the legislative competence of the provincial legislature.
However, counsels for various labour bodies argued that federal government in given circumstances was competent to legislate on matters such as formation of trade unions and settlement of industrial disputes relating to companies that operate at trans-provincial level. They added that the provincial assemblies were not empowered to make law having operation beyond their territories.
Federal law officer defended the enactment of law stating that IRA 2012 cannot be struck down as it was within legislative competence of the federation on the basis of entries 14, 27 and 32 of Part-I of the Fourth Schedule and Entry 13 of Part-II of the Fourth schedule of the Constitution. Entry 27 (inter-provincial trade and commerce) on federal legislative list entitles the federation to come up with legislation such as IRA 2012 aimed at regulation of industrial disputes arising in establishments operating within federal capital territory or at trans- provincial level.
He said that Act does not deal with companies that operate in one particular province, adding that only such companies are regulated purely by the provincial law.
In the verdict, the court noted that after 18th constitutional amendment, there was no law permitting workers fundamental right of freedom of association at trans-provincial level nor was the provincial legislature competent enough to enact law for the purpose. As per article 141 of the Constitution, provincial assembles are not empowered to make laws having operation beyond their jurisdiction.
Unless there is legislation at federal level, the rights of workmen to have trade union activities in trans-provincial establishments could not be materialized. Hence there was this urgent need to have a legal forum at federal level to facilitate exercise of fundamental right under 17 Article of the Constitution for industrial and commercial establishments that operate in Islamabad and at trans-provincial level.
The judges observed that IRA 2012 in its application does not destroy or usurp the provincial autonomy or the principles on which federation was formed under the Constitution, adding that it only facilitates and regulates right to form trade unions at trans-provincial level, as this right cannot be attained through laws enacted by provincial legislature.
It is the IRA only which enables the exercise of the fundamental right of trade union as guaranteed under Article 17 of the Constitution. In our view when a right to form a political party at national level is available and allowed to be exercised throughout the country, so does the right to form associations and unions at level transcends territorial boundaries of the province, they noted in judgment.
The court ruled that all the cases pending adjudication in labour courts pertaining to trans-provincial industrial and commercial establishments shall stand transferred to the labour courts of appropriate jurisdiction. Likewise the cases, pending in National Industrial Relations Court (NIRC) pertaining to inter-provincial industrial and commercial shall be transferred to labour courts of appropriate jurisdictions. The petitions were disposed of.
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