The Madras High Court Bench here has directed the Health Secretary to consider the plea of Theni Government Medical College Hospital Workers Union for enhancement of wages as applicable to their counterparts in private hospitals, under the Minimum Wages Act along with attendant benefits from the date of their joining the service.

Disposing of a writ petition filed by the union, Justice K. Chandru said that the court could not give a positive direction to the government to pay the wages in view of a legal bar. The government could consider revising their wages if any case to enhance the pay was made out.

“Even otherwise, the other option open to the union is to raise an industrial dispute and get the issue adjudicated by a competent tribunal, the judge said and pointed out that the Supreme Court too had recently held that litigants must exhaust the remedy available under the Industrial Disputes Act before approaching the High Court.

According to the petitioner union, 204 workers were engaged in the hospital for various jobs through Society for Education and Women Development, a private agency which had been designated as the service provider.

As of now, 178 workers remained and were being paid Rs. 990 a month. Only recently, they came to know that the government had passed an order on July 14, 2004, fixing minimum wages with respect to employment in hospitals and nursing homes. As per the G.O., a gardener must be paid a minimum salary of Rs. 2,787 a month.

However, filing a counter affidavit, the Medical Superintendent of Theni Government Medical College Hospital, said that the members of the petitioner union were all outsourced employees. There was no privity of contract between the union members and the State government.

Further, the notification relating to minimum wages in respect of employment in hospitals and nursing homes would not be applicable to Government Hospitals and ESI (Employees State Insurance Corporation) Hospitals in view of their exclusion from the purview of the schedule made under the provisions of the Minimum Wages Act. After hearing both sides, the judge said that if the members of the petitioner union had claimed that they were contract employees, then the provisions of the Contract Labour Abolition Regulation Act could be pressed into service. In which case, the Commissioner of Labour would have to enquire into conditions of employment.

However, the members had taken a stand that they were not contract employees as they were paid directly by the government after the expiry of the contract period. Therefore, “this court is unable to give any direction to the Labour Commissioner... At the same time, due to exclusion of the Government Hospitals from the purview of the Minimum Wages Act, they are also not covered by the minimum wages notification.

“The only course open to them is to seek for a direction to the Secretary to the government, Health Department, to consider the representation sent by the petitioner union in accordance with law,” he added.