Profession & Occupation

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

Photo by Matthew Paulson/ CC BY-NC-ND 2.0