Lockdown wages | Supreme Court allows firms to negotiate with staff

Employees get down to work in one of the factories that reopened on June 1, 2020 at G.T. Karnal Road in Delhi after over two months.   | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

The Supreme Court on Friday asked factory owners and other private industrial establishments to negotiate terms and enter into settlements with their workers on the payment of wages during the lockdown period.

A Bench, led by Justice Ashok Bhushan, observed that industry cannot survive without its labourers and workers.

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The court urged employers and employees to sort out their differences and resume work in a congenial atmosphere.

The court’s order came on a batch of petitions filed by industry owners against a March 29 government notification compelling them to pay full wages to workers. The notification was rescinded on May 17, after 54 days.

Resumption of work

In its order on Friday, the court asked employers to allow their workers to resume their jobs. This is without prejudice to the rights of the employees regarding unpaid wages for these 54 days.

It said that employers whose factories had continued to work during the lockdown, though not to full capacity, may also enter into talks.

Employers and workers could seek the help of Labour Department authorities and trade unions to reach a settlement. The court highlighted that the government, too, had an obligation to ensure conciliation between private employers and their workers for the smooth running of industrial establishments. “Lockdown had an equally adverse effect on the employers as well as on employees,” the court observed.

Also read | Suspend labour laws for 2-3 years, employers’ associations urge government

Various Industries, establishments were not allowed to function during the said period and those allowed to function also could not function to their capacity," the court said.

The court said a balance has to be found. Some industries would be able to bear the financial burden of payment of full or substantial wages for lockdown period, others may not be able to. The workers and employees, although ready to work, could not due to closure of industries. They have suffered.

Also read | Industries cannot be forced to pay wages during lockdown: panel

With this, the court continued its existing order that no coercive action should be taken against private factory/industry owners who were unable to pay wages to workers during the lockdown.

The court has further asked the Centre to file a detailed counter affidavit in two weeks. The case would be taken up again in the last week of July.

The petitions were filed by the owners of small commercial establishments, industries, shops and factories said the pandemic has already driven them to the brink of insolvency. Paying workers full wages with no work done would irretrievably drive them out of business. The economy would fall flat. They had argued that the March 29 notification was ill-devised and arbitrary.

Justice Bhushan had questioned the government's authority to compel private employers to pay full wages to their workers.

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Printable version | Apr 11, 2021 10:42:15 AM |

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