Supreme Court allows private firms to negotiate with staff on wages for lockdown period

No coercive action will be taken for non-payment of full wages, says top court.

The Supreme Court on Friday gave private factory owners and other private establishments an option to negotiate terms and enter into settlements with their staff on payment of wages during lockdown.

A Bench led by Justice Ashok Bhushan observed that industry could not survive without its labourers and workers. The court urged employers and employees to sort out their differences and resume work in a congenial atmosphere.

It said that those employers whose factories had continued to work during lockdown, though not to full capacity, may also enter into talks. With this, the court continued its existing order that no coercive action should be taken against private factory/industry owners unable to pay full wages to workers during 54 days of lockdown as per a notification issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs on March 29.

The court has further asked the Centre to file a detailed counter affidavit in two weeks. The case would be taken up again in the last week of July.

Last week, the court had restrained the government from taking any “coercive action” against private employers unable to pay full wages to their workers during the COVID-19 lockdown.

The Bench on Thursday last reserved its order on a clutch of petitions challenging the legality of a notification issued by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs on March 29 compelling employers to pay 100% wages to their workers during the entire period of the national lockdown.

The petitions filed by the owners of small commercial establishments, industries, shops and factories said the pandemic had already driven them to the brink of insolvency. Paying workers full wages with no work done would irretrievably drive them out of business. The economy would fall flat. They said the March 29 notification was ill-devised and arbitrary.

Justice Bhushan had questioned the government’s authority to compel private employers to pay full wages to their workers.

Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal for the government had said the March 29 notification was no longer operational and most workers had already returned to their villages.

With inputs from The Hindu