Top
Top Stories

Factories Act Notification Increasing Working Hours Indicative Of Intention To Capitalize On The Pandemic To Force Workers Into Servitude : SC

LIVELAW NEWS NETWORK
2 Oct 2020 7:31 AM GMT
Factories Act Notification Increasing Working Hours Indicative Of Intention To Capitalize On The Pandemic To Force Workers Into Servitude : SC
x
"The notifications in question legitimize the subjection of workers to onerous working conditions at a time when their feeble bargaining power stands whittled by the pandemic".

The Supreme Court on Thursday observed that the Gujarat Government's notification increasing the working hours of factory workers and exempting factories in the state from the obligation to pay overtime wages was "indicative of the intention to capitalize on the pandemic to force an already worn-down class of society, into the chains of servitude".The Court rejected the argument of...

Your free access to Live Law has expired
To read the article, get a premium account.
    Your Subscription Supports Independent Journalism
Subscription starts from
599+GST
(For 6 Months)
Premium account gives you:
  • Unlimited access to Live Law Archives, Weekly/Monthly Digest, Exclusive Notifications, Comments.
  • Reading experience of Ad Free Version, Petition Copies, Judgement/Order Copies.
Already a subscriber?

The Supreme Court on Thursday observed that the Gujarat Government's notification increasing the working hours of factory workers and exempting factories in the state from the obligation to pay overtime wages was "indicative of the intention to capitalize on the pandemic to force an already worn-down class of society, into the chains of servitude".

The Court rejected the argument of the Gujarat government that the COVID-19 situation amounted to a "public emergency" within the meaning of Section 5 of the Factories Act warranting the dilution of the welfare measures given to workers.

The Government argued that the COVID-19 pandemic was leading to financial chaos and the situation was on "the brink of internal disturbance". 

The bench headed by Justice D Y Chandrachud rejected this argument holding that "public emergency" as defined under Section 5 of the Factories Act referred to situations affecting the security of the state due to external aggression and internal disturbances.

The Court observed that "the economic slowdown created by the COVID-19 pandemic does not qualify as an internal disturbance threatening the security of the state".

"Unless the threshold of an economic hardship is so extreme that it leads to disruption of public order and threatens the security of India or of a part of its territory, recourse cannot be taken to such emergency powers which are to be used sparingly under the law. Recourse can be taken to them only when the conditions requisite for a valid exercise of statutory power exist under Section 5. That is absent in the present case", the judgment authored by Justice Chandrachud observed. 

The notifications in question, issued on April 17, expempted all factories from the applicability of Sections 51, 54, 55 and 56 and Section 59 of the Factories Act, which dealt with fixing 48-hour weekly work hours, 9-hour daily work hours, over-time allowances etc.

The notification increased the daily limit of working hours from 9 hours to 12 hours; increased the weekly work limit from 48 hours to 72 years, which translates into 12 hour work-days on 6 days of the week; negated the spread over of time at work including rest hours, which is typically fixed at 10.5 hours; enable an interval of rest every 6 hours, as opposed to 5 hours; and diluted the condition to pay overtime wages at double the rate of ordinary wages by stating that overtime wages need only be at a proportionate rate to ordinary wages.

The bench, also including Justices Indu Malhotra and K M Joseph, observed that these provisions rendered the "hard-won" protections under the Factories Act "illusory".

"The notifications in question legitimize the subjection of workers to onerous working conditions at a time when their feeble bargaining power stands whittled by the pandemic", the Court said.

"Clothed with exceptional powers under Section 5, the state cannot permit workers to be exploited in a manner that renders the hard-won protections of the Factories Act, 1948 illusory and the constitutional promise of social and economic democracy into paper-tigers",the top court warned.

The Court added that it is ironical that this result should ensue at a time when the state must ensure their welfare.

 The impugned notifications do not serve any purpose, apart from reducing the overhead costs of all factories in the State, without regard to the nature of their manufactured product,

"The notifications, in denying humane working conditions and overtime wages provided by law, are an affront to the workers' right to life and right against forced labour that are secured by Articles 21 and 23 of the Constitution", the Court observed.

Stressing that a workers' right to life cannot be deemed contingent on the mercy of their employer or the State, the court ordered that overtime wages should be paid to all eligible workers in Gujarat between April 20 and July 19, when the state government's notification was in operation.

The notifications were challenged by Gujarat Mazdoor Sabha and the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU).

In July, the Karnataka Government withdrew a similar notification under the Factories Act following sharp critical remarks from the Karnataka High Court.

Click


Next Story
Share it