"Workers are already facing huge financial difficulties because of COVID-19 and the impugned notification seeks to place more financial burden on the Workers exploiting their helplessness."
The Karnataka High Court on Friday issued notice to the state government on a petition filed against Government notification dated May 22, whereby provisions of the Factories Act were relaxed in the state until August 21, 2020.
The Government of Karnataka has relaxed various provisions relating to working hours, overtime etc., in effect increasing working hours to 10 hours per day and 60 hours per week.
The Division Bench of Chief Justice Abhay Oka and Justice Sachin Shankar Magadum, has sought a response from the Government however, it refused to grant any interim relief.
The matter is now posted for further hearing on June 5.
The case relates to a petition filed by Social and RTI Rights activist Maruthi H, through Advocate Basawa Kunale and Advocate Hemanth Rao, contending that the impugned notification is liable to be quashed as it is illegal, arbitrary and in violation of the Constitutional and statutory safeguards provided to workers.
The plea mentions that notification is in violation of Section 5 of the Factories Act as the said provision permits relaxation of labour laws only in case of Public Emergencies. The explanation to Section 5 stipulates public emergency to be instances of grave emergency where, security of India is threatened by war or external aggression or internal disturbance.
"COVID-19 pandemic is a public health emergency and does not come within the ambit of any 'war/external aggression/internal disturbance'. Both the Central and State Governments have ample power to address such a public health pandemic under the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 and Disaster Management Act, 2005 provide for health emergencies," the plea states.
The court has thus asked the Government to clarify in its reply as to what is the public emergency involved in the present case, so as to allow the Government to exempt the said labour laws. The court has also asked the Government to address the following issues:
The petition states that while the workers are suffering from the impact of lockdown, the State acting on the representation of Industrial bodies has relaxed the labour laws "in order to mitigate the economic losses suffered by the Factories and not to handle the public emergency."
Further, the petition claims that the impugned notification is vague and arbitrary in so far as it stipulates that overtime wages under Section 59 would continue to apply without clarifying the method of determining the same. "Section 59 provides for paying overtime wages when a worker works for more than 9 hours but there is no clarity as to whether the extra workings hours stipulated under the Notification entitles the worker for overtime wages," the plea read.
Lastly it is contended that the impugned notification, inasmuch as it increases daily working hours without any reasonable justification, amounts to "forced labour" and violates Fundamental rights under Articles 21 and 23 of the Constitution, apart from Directive principles of State Policy.
Click Here To Download Petition