India– The issue was whether medical doctors discharging functions of medical officers i.e. treating patients in Employees’ State Insurance Corporation’s dispensaries/hospitals are “workmen” within the meaning of expression contained in s.2(s) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 (ID Act).
The Court observed that medical officers appointed in the various dispensaries/hospitals are entrusted with the task of examining and diagnosing patients and prescribing medicines to them and they are basically and mainly engaged in professional and intellectual activities to treat patients. Hence, the court held that a medical professional treating patients and diagnosing diseases cannot be held to be a “workmen” within the meaning of s.2(s) of the ID Act. Doctors’ profession is a noble profession and is mainly dedicated to serve the society, which demands professionalism and accountability. Distinction between occupation and profession is of paramount importance. An occupation is a principal activity related to job, work or calling that earns regular wages for a person and a profession, on the other hand, requires extensive training, study and mastery of the subject, whether it is teaching students, providing legal advice or treating patients or diagnosing diseases. Persons performing such functions cannot be seen as a workman within the meaning of s.2(s) of the ID Act. Classically, there were only three professions: ministry, medicine and law. These three professions each hold to a specific code of ethics and members are almost universally required to swear to some form of oath to uphold those ethics, therefore “professing” to a higher standard of accountability. Each of these professions also provides and requires extensive training in the meaning, value and importance of its particular oath in the practice of that profession. A member of a profession is termed a professional. However, professional is also used for the acceptance of payment for an activity. Also a profession can also refer to any activity from which one earns one’s living, so in that sense sport is a profession.
The court cited A. Sundarambal v. Govt. of Goa, Daman & Diu (Supreme Court of India, 1988), wherein this Court held that a teacher employed by an educational institution, who imparts education (whether at primary, secondary, graduate or post-graduate level) cannot be called as a “workman” since imparting education which is the main function of a teacher, is in the nature of a noble mission or a noble vocation, which cannot be considered as skilled or unskilled manual work or supervisory, technical or clerical work. The court also cited Heavy Engineering Corporation Ltd. v. Presiding Officer, Labour Court (Supreme Court of India, 1996) wherein it was held that where the duties of a doctor required that he performs supervisory functions in addition to treating the patients, it would mean that he had been employed in a supervisory capacity. The court further held that when a doctor, like the respondent, discharges his duties of attending to the patients and, in addition thereto supervises the work of the persons subordinate to him, the only possible conclusion which can be arrived at is that the respondent cannot be held to be regarded as a workman under Section 2(s) of the Act.
Please see the following judgments on this topic: E.S.I.C. Medical Officer’s Association v. E.S.I.C. (Supreme Court of India, 2013)
Author: Vikrant Narayan Vasudeva