SC: Overtime Wages should not be denied to labourers during Pandemic.

The Supreme Court (SC) of India struck down the Gujarat government’s decision to exempt industries from paying overtime wages to workers under the Factories Act, 1948.  The judgement, pronounced by a bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud, has also put down the decision of fixed working hours amid the coronavirus pandemic.

What was the issue?

  • On April 27, The Gujarat government had issued a notification that provided relaxation to the industries by exempting them from certain conditions that were mandated under the section 5 of the Factories Act, 1948.
  • The notification stated that workers in Gujarat can be made to work for 12 hours a day with 30-minute break after every six hours.
  • The notification also had no provision of paying extra wages for overtime work. It was providing normal wages even for overtime work.
  • Following this, the Gujarat Mazdoor Sabha which is a registered trade union filed a plea in the Supreme Court against this decision of the Gujarat government.

Supreme court’s judgement

The SC court cited that “right to life” of workers is not bound by conditions. So, their claims on overtime wages and a decent working conditions must not be denied because of the Covid-19 and resultant disruptions in economic activities because of lockdown.  SC bench held that workers have faced social and economic challenges amid the lockdown. So, laws cannot be used to deny their right to life and their just claims against forced labour. The supreme court held that section 5 can not be invoked to relieve the economic slowdown caused by covid-19 pandemic.

Section 5 of the factories act 1948

The Section 5 gives power to the government to exempt industries from the purview of the act in case of public emergency. It defines public emergency as a Grave emergency that is a threat to internal security of the country by external aggression or internal disturbances.

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