R. DEVARAJAN

It's not a punishment but a sound doctrine

THE SUPREME Court issued an order to the government of India on July 17 that the doctors [in the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences and Maulana Azad Medical College] who went on strike from May 14 to June 2, should be paid salary during the strike period. The order also stated that salary was payable only for the period from May 14 to 30, and not beyond. This was because the Supreme Court had asked the doctors on May 30 to withdraw their strike and resume duty, but the doctors did not accept the advice forthwith. They resumed duty only on June 3. Therefore, the salary for the three days - from May 31 to June 2 - was not payable, according to the court order. "We are not accustomed to our wishes not being complied with," declared the Supreme Court.The doctrine of "No work, no pay" is a fundamental axiom in industrial relations. The philosophy is very simple. When a person is employed, he is expected to carry out the work assigned to him. When he does not do so, he is not eligible for payment of any salary. Even when a general strike or countrywide bandh disrupts public transport systems, and consequently employees are unable to reach their workplaces, the same principle prevails. Of course, some enlightened corporates permit their staff to avail themselves of any leave to their credit against such inevitable absence due to reasons beyond their control. Even die-hard trade union leaders respect this principle of equity and natural justice. "No work, no pay" lays a strong foundation to industrial peace and harmony in the long run.

Specific order

The Supreme Court has, however, said that this specific order will not create any precedent. When there are innumerable earlier judgments delivered by the Supreme Court, endorsing and upholding the no work, no pay doctrine, why deviate and deliver a dichotomy and also declare that it will not set a precedent? There is another significant issue at stake in this context. Like other law-enforcing and life-supporting functionaries such as Police, Army, Fire Service, Electricity Department and so on, hospitals and doctors also constitute the essential services segment in society at large. The physician in particular is a candidate sworn to the Hippocratic oath. How can he forsake the professional ethics of his calling and create needless risk and health hazard to the patients entrusted to his care for his expert and emergency attention? One wonders whether Mahatma Gandhi - the proponent and protagonist of satyagraha - will turn in his grave at the callous and indifferent manner in which the weapon of strike has been perpetrated.

Muddled logic

In fact, in this very instance, the Supreme Court has said, "As a matter of law, we don't approve of doctors going on strike. Normally, the principle of no work, no pay would apply but for your [Centre's] assurance that no punitive action will be taken against them if they join duty." There seems to have been some confusion and muddled logic at this point of the proceedings.The principle of no work, no pay is not punitive; it is not a punishment - far from it. When an employee expends his energy and effort in a productive task, a predetermined salary rewards his performance. The American usage, `compensation,' comes to our rescue in an admirable way. People are compensated for contributing their labour. When there is no contribution, there is no compensation in return. It is a covenant between two parties that provides for equal and reciprocal responsibility. Where is the question of any "punitive action" in such a transaction?Further, the government counsel had also assured the Supreme Court that all criminal cases registered against the doctors would be withdrawn. Under the circumstances, therefore, the punitiveness - if at all - was rather contained in the Court directive that deprived payment of salary for three days, because the doctors initially did not comply with the wishes of the Supreme Court.Already, we have had an instance of a Japanese company in Delhi finding it difficult to come to terms with the industrial relations culture in our country. The Japanese worker regards his industry with the reverence of a religion. Work stoppage is anathema to the entire nation and its social fabric. Whereas in our country some people conduct their religion like an industry - a business house to make money and merry at the expense of the innocent and ignorant. In any event, there was no rationale for sending the sound and sacred doctrine of no work, no pay to a sixer - sound because it is equitable and sacred because it safeguards the bedrock of industrial peace, progress, and prosperity.

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