On Friday the Delhi High court bench comprising — in the case of Shiwang Tripathi & Ors v. Union of India & Ors held that apprentices cannot claim a right to be absorbed in the company upon completion of their apprenticeship if the employer does not have a binding responsibility to absorb them as regular workers.
justice Rekha Palli was hearing a petition from 97 petitioners who were employed as accounts apprentices by a general insurance business, National Insurance Company Limited, but wanted to be absorbed as administrative officers (grade I) once their apprenticeship contract was completed.
“The petitioners were admittedly taken in as apprentices, and merely because their apprenticeship was extended in accordance with the advertisement, they cannot claim that they are akin to regular employees, or that the period of apprenticeship should be treated as a probation period,” The Court Held
After being chosen in response to an advertising published on November 1, 2018, all 97 petitioners were appointed. The corporation was ordered to regularise their services as administrative officers (scale I) with all service and concomitant benefits, including seniority, in their petition.
- Their superior officers frequently complimented them on their performance during their apprenticeship training at the respondent organisation.
- The apprenticeship time was extended twice, the first until December 31, 2021, and the second until June 30, 2022.
- Despite requests for their absorption from the responders, no actions were taken to regularise their services.
- They were assured that if a vacancy for the post in question arose, they would be considered for absorption, subject to satisfactory performance, and it was only on the basis of this stipulation in the advertisement that the petitioners left their previous employment to join the respondent company.
- The chairman-cum-managing director wrote to the Ministry of Finance, requesting that the ban on new recruitment, which includes petitioners, be lifted.
- Actuarial apprentices hired in 2018 after a 2017 advertisement were absorbed as scale I officers by the respondent company as recently as April 8, 2022. As a result, it cannot be asserted that they are unable to absorb existing accounting apprentices due to any supposed reorganisation.
The case of the respondents
- Petitioners were plainly advised that the respondent firm was under no obligation to absorb them, and that they could not claim that they were required to be absorbed even if the respondent company had no need for such officers
- Neither the appointment letter nor the surety bond provided by the petitioners stated that the petitioners had any reciprocal responsibilities to serve the respondent company after their apprenticeship time was completed
- Section 22 (1) of the Apprentices Act, 1961, grants the employer the authority to develop its own policy for the recruitment of any apprentice who has finished his or her apprenticeship in the employer’s establishment.
- Although it was proposed by way of a correspondence on February 4, 2022—granting the petitioners the second and final extension—petitioners exercised their own judgement in continuing with their apprenticeship training rather than exploring for different job prospects.
- The fact that the Chairman wrote to the Ministry of Finance to waive the ban on new recruitment does not preclude the respondents from deciding not to fill the position at all.
- The comparison to actuarial apprentices was inappropriate because not only do accounts and actuarial apprentices belong to separate categories, but there is also an acute lack of competent actuarial professionals, unlike qualified accounts personnel.
High Court’s Observations
It was noted that the petitioners had relied on Section 22(2) of the Act to claim entitlement to absorption as scale I officers, especially since they were told at the time of their appointment in June 2019 that they would be absorbed, subject to vacancies being available and their performance being satisfactory.
The employer’s discretion to determine its strategy for apprentice recruitment was noted in Section 22 (1) of the Act, and so there was generally no duty on an employer to absorb the apprentices.
However, Section 22(2) of the Act made an exception, addressing a situation in which the apprenticeship contract included a condition requiring apprentices to serve the employer after successfully completing their training, as well as an obligation on the employer to provide suitable employment to the apprentices at the end of the apprenticeship period.
The main point before the Court was whether there was any such condition in the parties’ contract that would fall within the reach of Section 22(2) of the Act.
The High Court relied on passages in the apprentices’ employment conditions and appointment letters to reach its decision.
As a result, the Court stated,
I am unable to find any clause either containing any assurance to the petitioners that all the apprentices would be necessarily absorbed as scale I officers upon completion of their apprenticeship, or any obligation on the apprentices to serve the respondent after completion of the apprenticeship as envisaged under Section 22(2) of the ActCourt stated
Even one of the clauses in the service conditions indicated that the respondent company was not obligated to offer any apprentice work after they completed their apprenticeship.
The Court was not persuaded by the argument that just because the respondent corporation thought it would be helpful to absorb these apprentices at one point may be read as an estoppel barring them from pleading that they no longer believe it is acceptable to do so.
Despite the fact that the actuarial apprentices argument appeared to be “attractive at first blush,” the Court dismissed it for two reasons: an acute shortage of trained actuarial personnel compared to accounts personnel, and the lack of a bar prohibiting an employer from absorbing any category of apprentices as it saw fit.
Even though petitioners may indeed have an impeccable service record, as is reflected in the positive reviews given by their superior officers in their performance reports, once the respondents have taken a categorical decision neither to absorb the accounts apprentices, nor to fill up these posts of administrative officers (scale I) through direct recruitment anytime in the near future, this Court cannot grant any relief to the petitioners,The court held
Petitioners are represented by senior counsel Ajit Kumar Sinha and advocates Govind Jee and Parul Dhurve.
Respondents are represented by Senior Advocate Sudhanshu Batra and Advocates Zorawar Singh, Vivek Kishore, Anju Gupta, and Roshan Lal.