The Centre’s direction to states to ensure all employers pay wages to their workers without any deduction during the lockdown cannot be applicable for those workers who remained unpaid for a long period even before the lockdown, the Bombay High Court has said.
A bench of Justices Ujjal Bhuyan and Riyaz Chagla said on Monday this while hearing two writ petitions filed by Premier Ltd, a heavy machinery manufacturing company from Pune in Maharashtra, and its employees union.
The company challenged an order of the industrial court directing payment of a part of wages to its workers,who had not been paid since May 2019.
Its employees union sought compliance of the Union Home Ministry‘s order dated March 29, 2020 and a subsequent Maharashtra government resolution (GR) issued on March 31, 2020, directing employers to pay wages to all workers even during the lockdown period.
As per the court order, the company decided to shift its plant from its original site to a new one in 2017.
The state labour commission granted a no objection certificate (NOC) to the company for shifting on the condition that it would pay full wages to its workers during the time the work remained suspended due to shifting of work.
However, as per the plea of the employees union, filed through senior counsel Gayatri Singh, the workers remained unpaid since May 2019 till now.
The employees union earlier also filed a complaint before the industrial court on the ground of unfair labour practices.
The industrial court on March 3 this year ordered that the workers be paid their salaries with effect from March 1 onwards before the 10th of each subsequent month.
But, the employees union moved the high court, claiming that the workers were yet to be paid the salaries for March. It sought the invocation of orders of the Centre and the state on not withholding payment during the coronavirus- induced lockdown.
The high court bench said the government orders were not applicable in the present case.
“To be deemed to be on duty one should be on duty on the date when the lockdown was declared. To be entitled to or for continuity of salary or wages during the lockdown, an employee/worker should receive the same till the month which is previous to closure on account of the lockdown,” it said.
The court further said the issue was already being heard by the industrial court and therefore, the government orders issued for the lockdown “could not be invoked to short circumvent an industrial dispute which was being adjudicated upon before the competent forum”.
On the other hand, the company submitted through advocates Kiran Bapat and Manish Leklar that because of an “obstructionist approach” of the employees union, it had suffered loss of business and earnings.
Besides, the Union government’s order of March 29 on payment of wages had been subsequently withdrawn, it said.
The court said irrespective of the order having been withdrawn, it couldn’t have any bearing on the present case.
“A conjoint reading of the central government order and the Maharashtra government resolution would go to show that those have been issued to meet the situation arising out of the lockdown,” the high court said.
“But the moot question is could the central government order and the Maharashtra government resolution be invoked in a situation where the management and workmen are engaged in an industrial adjudication relating to non-payment of salary/ wages and suspension of work much prior to closure of the establishments due to the lockdown?” the court said.
“In our view, the answer to this question would have to be in the negative,” it said.
The high court, however, directed the company to pay 50% of the pending wages to its workers.
It also directed the industrial court to complete hearing the complaint within six months.
This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.