The Supreme Court has nullified the Gujarat government’s April order which permitted factories to extend work shifts to up to 12 hours from eight hours and cut overtime pay by 50% in the wake of Covid-19 crisis.
The apex court has now directed the state government to pay overtime dues to workers by pre-Covid rates.
“Burden cannot be put on workers during the (coronavirus) pandemic. It is not the appropriate response. Right to employment and fair wage are part of Right to Life,” a three-judge bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra and KM Joesph said, delivering the verdict through video conferencing.
The judgment was given in response to a petition filed by the Gujarat Mazdoor Sabha. The court further said that pandemic was not an internal emergency that threatened the security of the nation to the extent that it has to do away with requirements of the law.
In April, the Gujarat Labour and Employment Department had decided to exempt factories from provisions of the Factories Act-1948 governing payment of overtime wages, working hours fixed for the workers and resting intervals, among others, from April to July.
Besides Gujarat, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan too had ordered longer shifts for workers post-lockdown. The decision was prompted by the inability expressed by several lockdown-hit businesses to pay wages in full.
The governments of the six states then argued that by doing so (extending work shifts and cutting down overtime pay) they wanted to make sure that companies can meet targets and operate with fewer workers so that they overcome losses at a fast pace, which the government says, will benefit employees in the long run.