The Bombay High Court(Aurangabad bench) on Thursday allowed employers to deduct wages of workers who remain absent from work in areas, where the lockdown has been lifted.
While refusing to interfere with the direction issued by Ministry of Home Affairs on March 29 regarding full payment of wages to employees during lockdown, Justice R V Ghuge clarified as follows :
"It is clarified that since the State of Maharashtra has partially lifted the lock down recently in certain industrial areas in the State of Maharashtra, the workers would be expected to report for duties as per the shift schedules subject to adequate protection, from Corona Virus infections, by the employer. In the event such workers voluntarily remain absent, the Management would be at liberty to deduct their wages for their absence subject to the procedure laid down in Law while initiating such action. This would apply even to areas where there may not have been a lock down".
Justice RV Ghuge heard multiple petitions of similar nature via video conferencing in the case Align Components Pvt Ltd vs Union of India.
Petitioners had contended that though the Managements are willing to offer work to the workers and though the workers would be willing to perform the work, restrictions have been imposed on the continuance of the manufacturing activities so as to restrict the spread of Covid-19 and as a consequence of which, the Managements have been mandated to shut down their manufacturing activities.
In this backdrop, petitioners pray for exemption from paying monthly wages for as long the restriction of manufacturing activities continues.
Appearing for the petitioners, Advocate TK Prabhakaran submitted on instructions that petitioners are willing to pay 50% of the gross wages or the minimum rates of wages prescribed under the Minimum Wages Act, whichever is higher.
Advocate DG Nagode appeared on behalf of the Union of India and GP DR Kale for the State. Both sought time to take instructions.
Justice Ghuge noted-
"I find that the Hon'ble Apex Court has passed an order on 27/04/2020 in a group of matters, in Ficus Pax Private Ltd., Vs. Union of India and others wherein a similar request by the employers /Management of Industries, has been put forth. The Hon'ble Apex Court has directed that the group of petitions be listed after two weeks. No interim relief is granted.
I also find that the Kerala High Court has stayed an order issued by the Finance Department of the Govt. of Kerala dated 23/04/2020, by which the payment of 50% salary has been permitted and the remainder payment of 50% salary was deferred."
Thus, Court concluded that since the Supreme Court is dealing with a similar cause of action, it would not interfere with the said notification.
"I would expect the petitioners to pay the gross monthly wages to the employees, save and except conveyance allowance and food allowance, if being paid on a month to month basis in the cases of those workers who are not required to report for duties." Justice Ghuge said.
Court also granted liberty to Advocate Prabhakaran to add the workers' representatives to come forward with an intervention.
The payment of gross wages by these petitioners to the workers, save and except conveyance/food allowance, shall be subject to the result of this petition, Court said. The next date of hearing is May 18.
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