The Bombay High Court on Wednesday sharply rebuked the City and Industrial Development Corporation of Maharashtra for making gardeners working for them for several years, work during the lockdown without pay and without protective gear despite an award by the Industrial Tribunal against them in 2018 effectively making gardeners permanent employees.
Justice SJ Kathawalla heard the writ petition filed by Maharashtra Kamgar Sanghatana on behalf of its members/workmen, who since the last several years are working as Gardeners or 'Malis' for CIDCO.
Court called CIDCO's treatment of the workmen (gardeners) "inhuman and callous" and directed payment of unpaid wages from January until April 2020. Moreover, Justice Kathawalla directed CIDCO to continue to pay earned wages to the workmen before the 5th of every month.
Senior Advocate Sanjay Singhvi along with Advocate Karishma Rao appeared on behalf of the petitioner and Advocate GS Hegde with Advocate PM Bhansali for CIDCO.
Prior to 2012, the concerned workmen, continuously worked for several years as 'Malis' i.e. Gardeners for CIDCO. Since CIDCO continued to treat them as contract workers, on December 1, 2012, a plea for relief was made before the Industrial Tribunal, Thane, regarding permanency of the concerned workmen.
On January 13, 2017, the Award was passed stating that the concerned workmen be absorbed as permanent employees in CIDCO and be extended all benefits of permanency with effect from December 1, 2012. CIDCO challenged the said Award before the High Court, which was dismissed by an order dated January 31, 2020, stating that the Award passed, calls for no interference.
Singhvi argued that since the orders are admittedly not stayed, CIDCO was bound to absorb the concerned workmen as permanent employees and also extend all benefits of permanency to them w.e.f December 1, 2012. However, despite Court orders being in their favour and despite them having continued to work during the pandemic Covid-19, CIDCO compelled the concerned workmen to survive on charity of ration provided by NGOs and social workers, he said.
On the other hand, CIDCO's counsel Hegde took instructions and submitted that in February, 2020 itself, his client had sent the relevant papers to their Advocate in New Delhi with a request to file a Special Leave Petition challenging the High Court's order. However, the Advocate at New Delhi has, due to the current pandemic not taken any steps till date, Hegde said.
Furthermore, Hegde told the Court that some payments were made by CIDCO on April 30, 2020 to the concerned workmen for the month of January and "instructions" have been issued by CIDCO to the Contractor to pay the concerned workmen upto April, 2020. Moreover, CIDCO has handed over/is in the process of handing over the concerned gardens to Panvel Municipal Corporation, thus it is the PMC who will have to pay the concerned workmen, Hegde argued.
Justice Kathawalla observed-
"None of the submissions advanced by Advocate Hegde on behalf of CIDCO justify the inhuman and callous conduct of non-payment of the earned wages since January, 2020, to the concerned workers.
Making the concerned workmen work even during the pandemic and thereafter not paying them their earned wages for months, thereby compelling them to extend their hands before NGOs and social workers for ration to feed themselves and the members of their families, is certainly a very inhuman act on the part of CIDCO, which deserves severe condemnation. Even at this stage, CIDCO is not willing to make a statement that CIDCO will make payment to the concerned workmen but is only willing to make a statement that CIDCO will direct the Contractor to make payment to the concerned workmen. Since the next excuse could be that despite being directed by CIDCO, the Contractor has failed to pay the concerned workmen, for which CIDCO cannot be held responsible, I am not willing to accept the statement of CIDCO."
Moreover, the Court addressed the grievance of the concerned workmen that they are not provided ID Cards, face masks, hand gloves, etc. because of which, they are finding it difficult to reach their place of work and are exposed to the rigors of the deadly virus.
Justice Kathawalla allowed the petition. Court directed CIDCO to pay the concerned workmen their unpaid earned wages upto April, 2020 and on or before May 18, 2020 issue essential service ID Cards to the concerned workmen along with face masks, hand gloves, sanitizers / soap, if not provided so far, and replace/replenish the same from time to time.
Finally, CIDCO shall file an affidavit within two weeks and the next date of hearing is June 1.
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