Supreme Court has overturned an order by the Ministry Home Affairs which asked industries to pay full wages to their employees for the lockdown period. The apex court has ordered government not to take any coercive action against private companies unable to pay the full salaries to their workers.
The judgement came against a writ petition filed by Karnataka-based company Ficus Pax Private Limited, which had challenged the constitutional validity of a March 20 notification by the Labour Secretary and clause III of the March 29 notification by the Home Ministry, both of which compelled payment of full wages to workers and employees during the period of lockdown.
The company had argued that government orders mandating full salary payment to workers violated Articles 14 and 19 (1)(g) of the Constitution of India, which refer to equality before law and right to practise any profession, occupation or trade, respectively. It had further said that the order was in contravention of the principles of 'Equal Work, Equal Pay' and 'No Work, No Pay', as it doesn't differentiate between the workers who are working during lockdown
"How long can the government expect companies to pay?" a three-judge bench headed by Justice L Nageswara Rao asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who sought further time to respond to the petition.
The bench said there may be small industries, which are affected due to the lockdown as they can sustain for say 15 odd days but not more and if they cannot earn, how are they going to pay their workers. It further added that the Centre can't persecute firms if they are unable to pay salaries.
"It is implicit in the fundamental right of an employer to trade or business that there is an obligation to pay when work is actually done and there is no obligation if no work is done," the Supreme Court bench said.