The Supreme Court on Friday, May 15 ordered administrations across India not to prosecute employers who were unable to pay full wages to the workers during the Covid-19 induced nationwide lockdown.
The direction from the top court virtually stays the operation of the March 29 circular issued by the Ministry of Home Affair (MHA). A bench comprising Justice L. Nageswara Rao, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and B.R. Gavai asked the Centre and states not to prosecute private companies, factories etc. for non-payment of wages.
The top court has asked for a response from the Centre on a bunch of petitions filed by industrial units, which moved the court claiming that they have no means to pay wages since there is no production.
The petitioners argued that the Government of India has not taken any steps for the workforce and instead put the entire burden on the employers/owners to pay full wages.
The petitioners submitted before the top court that organisations should be completely exempted from paying their workforce during the nationwide lockdown implemented in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Mumbai textile firm & Punjab collective of 41 small scale organisations file petition
The petitions were filed by a Mumbai-based textile firm and a Punjab-based collective of 41 small scale organisations, urging the court to set aside the March 29 order of the MHA directing private establishments to pay full wages to the workers during the period of the lockdown.
The petitioners challenged the constitutional validity of Section 10(2)(i) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005.
Punjab-based Ludhiana Hand Tools Association claimed that the March 29 MHA order under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 was violative of Articles 14, 19(1)(g), 265 and 300 of the Constitution and that it must be "struck down".
The petitioners maintained that Section 25M of the Industrial Disputes Act provided for the right to layoff workers due to natural calamity.