Coronavirus lockdown | Explain Home Ministry order on full wages, Supreme Court tells government

A migrant worker speaks on his mobile phone laying in front of a closed shop in a market area in New Delhi on April 21, 2020.

A migrant worker speaks on his mobile phone laying in front of a closed shop in a market area in New Delhi on April 21, 2020.   | Photo Credit: AFP

Bench asks Centre to reply in two weeks.

The Supreme Court has given the Centre two weeks to explain a Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) order, issued on March 29, directing employers to pay full wages to their workers during the lockdown.

A three-judge Bench, led by Justice N.V. Ramana, on Monday, allowed Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the government, to file his response to a batch of petitions filed by several companies challenging the constitutional validity of the March 29 order, which mandates that industry, shops and commercial establishments, without exception, pay their workers without any deduction in the name of COVID-19. The petitions said a blanket direction to private establishments to pay full salaries against no work was arbitrary and violative of Article 14 (right to equality) of the Constitution.

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‘No obligation’

“It is implicit in the fundamental right of an employer to trade or business that there is an obligation to pay when work is actually done and there is no obligation if no work is done. An employer and employee have reciprocal promises whereby the right of an employee to demand salary is reciprocal to performance of work by such employee. The employer has a right to not pay if no work is done,” the petition filed by private firms such as Nagreeka Exports Limited and Ficus Pax Private Ltd. said.

Nagreeka said it was engaged in manufacture and export of cotton yarns, fabric and textiles. It said stoppage of operations since the lockdown had led to losses to the tune of ₹1.50 crore.

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Separate petitions have also been filed by entities from the micro, small and medium sector against the government’s order to pay full wages to their workers. MSME industries have said they are compelled to slide into insolvency by the government, which has ordered them to continue to pay full salaries to their workers. These petitions have asked the court to order the government to support them by taking responsibility for 70% of their staffers’ pay by drawing funds from the PM Cares Fund or the Employees State Insurance Corporation. The court is yet to list these pleas.

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Printable version | Jun 3, 2020 7:50:10 PM |

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