Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of L. Nageswara Rao, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and BR Gavai, JJ has issued notice in a number of petitions challenging clause (iii) of the Ministry of Home Affairs order dated March 29, 2020 directing the industries, shops and commercial establishments to pay full salary/wages to all its staff, workers, contract workers, casual workers during the period of lockdown. The notice is returnable next week.

The Court, granted interim relief in two of the petitions, namely, by Hand Tools Manufacturers Association and Indian Jute Mills Association [WP (Civil) Diary No(s). 11281/2020] and directed that “no coercive action shall be taken in the meantime”. However, no such relief was granted to other petitioners like Ficus Pax Private Limited [WP (CIVIL) Diary No(s). 10983/2020], Ludhiana Hand Tools Association [WP (Civil) Diary No(s). 10993/2020], Twin City Industrial Employers Association [WP(Civil) Diary No(s). 11018/2020], etc.

MHA Order dated 29.03.2020:

The said order issued after a large number of migrant workers had started marching towards their hometowns amidst Coronavirus Lockdown. It lays down directions for adequate arrangements of food and shelter for migrant workers. It also directs the landlords to not demand the payment of rent from migrant workers.

However, only Clause (iii) of the impugned MHA order is under challenge in the present batch of petitions. The said clause reads:

“All the employers, be it in the industry or in the shops and commercial establishments, shall make payment of wages of their workers, at their work places, on the due date, without any deduction, for the period their establishments are under closure during lockdown period.”

Hand Tools Manufacturers Association’s case

Hand Tools Manufacturers Association is an association formed and registered under Societies Registration Act, 1860 and as amended by Punjab Amendment Act, 1957. Petitioner comprises of around 52 members, which constitutes of sole proprietorship firms, partnership firms and private limited companies engaged in the manufacturing and distribution of the hand tools.

It has challenged the order on the ground of it being,

“illegal, violative of law, impossible to implement and have a cascading effect which may lead to winding up, closure or shut down of various industrial establishments, factories etc. rendering the workers, employees and other ancillary staff as unemployed.”

The petition also states,

“when hundreds of Crores of unclaimed provident fund and Employees State Insurance Corporation contribution lies in banks attracting interest and Government of India is enjoying benefit out it, Government of India completely erred in directing the private establishments to pay full wages, instead of using this contribution of the industry towards the welfare of workers/employees, and therefore, arbitrary and unreasonable.”

The Association, apart from seeking a direction to quash the impugned MHA order, has prayed before the Court that Section 10(2)(I) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, in the event that the same are interpreted as conferring power on the Central Government, to direct private establishments to make full payments of wages to the employees during the lock-down period, be declared as illegal, arbitrary and violative of Articles 14, 19(1)(g), and 300A of the Constitution. It also sought a stay on the operations of the Impugned MHA order till the final disposal of the case before the Supreme Court.

[Hand Tools Manufacturers Association v. Union of India, WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) Diary No(s). 11193/2020, order dated 15.05.2020]

Click here to read the MHA order dated 29.03.2020

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