Employers and employees must go for settlement on lockdown period wages: Centre | India News

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Jun 4, 2020

NEW DELHI: After making it mandatory for employers to pay full wages to workers during the lockdown through its March 29 notification, the Centre on Thursday substantially diluted its stand by saying employers and employees must seek settlement on payment of wages during the period when the country was brought to a standstill by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The home ministry, in its March 29 notification, said employers will face prosecution for non-payment of wages and several such notices were issued. The Supreme Court thereafter protected employers against any coercive action by authorities for non-payment of wages. Employers and companies have argued that the Centre could not force them to pay when they had no income and also questioned the validity of the direction to private firms. The Centre’s revised lockdown guidelines were seen to rescind the direction.
For the Centre, attorney general K K Venugopal said the notification was issued to stop exodus of workers from industrial units and workplaces by assuring them wages. “If the notification was not issued at that time, there would have been a much larger exodus of migrant workers. Now, the government wants to start economic activity. Please keep in abeyance the scrutiny of the March 29 notification for two months and let employers and employees reach a settlement on payment of wages under the Industrial Disputes Act,” he said.
But a large number of companies and employers, through senior advocates K V Vishwanathan, Jamshed P Cama and counsel Jeetender Gupta, told a bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, Sanjay K Kaul and M R Shah that unless the March 29 notification was quashed, no worker would come for a settlement on payment of wages. They said the government, under the Disaster Management Act, was not empowered to direct private companies to pay full wages to workers.
The bench too raised the same doubt. But in a rare ocurrence, senior advocates Indira Jaising, C U Singh and Anand Grover rallied in support of the government’s March 29 notification and said it was a just direction issued to protect interests of the poorest of the poor. “The only law that governs the country at present is DM Act. The workers could not have attended work as there was a compulsory lockdown that was enforced strictly and violators were punished. So, the workers cannot be pushed to double jeopardy by denial of wages,” they said.
Employers and companies said the lockdown affected both them and the workers. “There was no earning. How could we pay full wages to employees? The government must distribute the surplus ESI fund to workers as wages for the present,” they countered.
The bench said it would pass orders on June 12 and protected the employees and employers from prosecution for non-payment of wages till then.

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