The Kerala High Court recently held that businesses need not employ previously registered headload workers and can instead register their own employees as headload workers so long as the employees are willing and able to do the work (Manzoor E v. Distric Labour Officer).
Single judge Justice Bechu Kurian Thomas passed the order declaring that when a business wants to register its own workers as headload workers, they have no obligation to engage union headload workers as there is no requirement in law that persons need to already be engaged in headload work to be registered as such.
The Court cited its earlier judgments on similar matters and observed that if such a view is taken only those who are already registered would ever be allowed to do headload work, which would be irrational and puerile.
"This would also lead to an anomalous situation, where, no new persons could never be registered as a headload worker in a scheme covered area. The Kerala Headload Workers Act, 1978 does not contemplate such an interpretation, and if adopted, it would render the Act redundant and unworkable. If such an interpretation is adopted, it will create a situation where the existing registered headload workers alone would be able to continue the work of loading and unloading, to the exclusion of all those new entrants to work," the Court said.
Moreover, going by the provisions of the Kerala Headload Workers Rules, 1981, there is no requirement that persons need to already have been engaged in headload work; the only requirement is that they have the ability and inclination to carry out such work.
"While considering an application for registration as a headload worker under Rule 26A of the Rules, the registering officers' look out is not whether the applicant was a headload worker or not, prior to such registration.The said provision has already been read down to mean that the look out for the registering officer must be only as to whether the applicant has the physique to be employed as a headload worker and also as to whether the employer is prepared to engage the applicant as headload worker", the order stated.
The Court issued the order on a petition filed by an employer and two of his employees who worked as headload workers at his establishment.
They approached the Court, through Advocate TR Rajan challenging the order rejecting their applications to be registered headload workers and seeking directions to ensure their registration and issue the requisite identity cards to them.
According to the respondents, represented by Government Pleader Sabeena P Ismail and Advocate Siju Kamalasanan, if the employer wanted to engage headload workers, he can do so from the registered workers available in the pool of the area.
Moreover, they contended that there was no irregularity or illegality in the orders rejecting the application as the petitioner's employees were not principally employed for headload works in the establishment of the first petitioner and hence they will not come within the purview of the Kerala Headload Workers Act, 1978.
However, the Court rejected the reasons stated by the respondents since going by that logic, it noted that only those who are already registered as headload workers would be able to do the job.
Pertinently the Court found that an inclination or willingness to do headload work along with consent of the employer to employ the person as a headload worker, will satisfy the requirements of the Act and Scheme to obtain registration as a headload worker.
The Court noted that similar observations have been made by the it in Gangadharan v. Abdul Nasir, Muhammed Kunju and Others v. District Labour Officer and Others, Rajeev v. District Labour Officer.
The Court also held that the assertions of the employer and the employees that they were engaged as headload workers, in the absence of contrary evidence, are sufficient to allow the applications to be registered as headload workers.
Therefore, the Court set aside the orders rejecting the applications and directed the authorities to register the employees as headload workers in a time-bound manner.