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Bombay HC Directs Municipal Corporation To Pay Contract Workers Involved In COVID-19 Duties

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The Bombay High Court on Wednesday has directed the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation to pay its certified contract workers per day allowance on the basis of their attendanceat the rate paid to the other employees / workers by the Corporation under its Circular on 7th April 2020.

The High Court said that the Corporation will certify the names of the “Kamgaars”/workers involved in the COVID-19 related duties and forward a list of the same to the Advocate for the Petitioner Sangh / Union within a period of one week from the date of uploading of the order and the payment of special allowance to the certified contract workers will be made on the basis of their attendance. For this purpose, the contractors will provide the details of such certified contract workers at the end of each month (starting from May, 2020) along with their attendance to the Corporation for payment of the allowance to the contractors, who in turn will disburse the same amongst the entitled workers.

On the grievance raised by the petitioner Sangh/ Union that though the Municipal Commissioner of the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation has, by his Circular dated 7th April, 2020, sanctioned Rs.300/- as the daily allowance to the workers and employees of the Corporation, the same is not paid to the Kamgaars on the ground that they are contract labourers, the High Court enquired from the Advocate for the Corporation as to why the Corporation is not considering extension of the same benefit to only those Kamgaars employed through the contractors, who are involved in COVID-19 related duties assigned by the Corporation. In response, the Corporation stated that since the Members of the Petitioner Sangh / Union i.e. the Kamgaars are employed by the contractors to carry out the work of the Corporation under contracts executed by and between such contractors and the Corporation, the Kamgaars are not entitled to claim parity and receive the said allowance which the Corporation has agreed to pay to its officers and its workers, including the workers who are directly appointed by the Corporation on contract basis.

The Corporation justified non-payment of allowance to the Kamgaars before the Court by saying that the Kamgaars are provided transportation, on which High Court said that defence raised by the Corporation to justify the non-payment of allowance to the contract workers discharging COVID related duties, does not assist the Corporation in any way.

The following points were mentioned by the Corporation before the High Court on non-payment of allowance to the Kamgaars.

  1. In view of the lockdown, the quantum of solid waste as well as the dirt and garbage generated on the roads, has reduced and the Kamgaars are only working for four hours instead of eight hours in a day.
  2. That considering the huge reduction in receipt of revenue, paying allowance to the Kamgaars will create additional burden on the Corporation, when in fact the State Government has directed various measures for reduction of expenses by government and public bodies.
  3. That the contract workers of the other Corporations would demand the said benefit.
  4. That the daily allowance is for encouraging the municipal staff to attend the duties during lockdown and therefore some part of encouragement cost should also be borne by the concerned contractor, who continues to earn profits out of the contract even during lockdown.

Thereafter, the Deputy Municipal Commissioner of the Corporation has fled his Affidavit, wherein he has pointed out that all the Kamgaars set out in the list submitted by the Advocate for the Petitioner Sangh / Union are not carrying out COVID-19 related duties. He further added that without prejudice to the contention of the Corporation that the Corporationis not required to pay any allowance to contract workers, if the Court is of the view that allowance be paid to the contract workers, the Corporation may be allowed to certify the exact contract workers who are involved in COVID-19 related duties, and payment of special allowance be restricted only to such certified contract workers, on the basis of their attendance.

Therefore, the High Court said that the above stand of the Corporation, is unfair, especially under the present circumstances. Some of the contract workers are admittedly carrying out the COVID-19 related duties, assigned by the Corporation through the contractors.

Acting upon the plea, the single judge bench of Justice S.J. Kathawalla observed that,“The Circular issued by the Corporation makes it clear and it is also confirmed by its Advocate that the Corporation has agreed to pay to its officers and its workers, including the workers who are directly appointed by the Corporation on contract basis, the said allowance of Rs. 300/ per day, on the ground that, despite them facing difficulties in travelling from their residence to the workplace and in procuring meals, they are “fulfilling their responsibilities by risking their lives.

It cannot be disputed that the Kamgaars too, who are involved in COVID-19 related duties assigned by the Corporation through the contractors, are facing the very same difficulties as those faced by the officers and the workers of the Corporation, including the workers who are directly appointed by the Corporation on contract basis, and the Kamgaars are also “fulfilling their responsibilities by risking their lives”. In my view, the risk taken by the employees / workers / Kamgaars in carrying out COVID19 related duties for the Corporation cannot be differentiated / distinguished on their employment being directly with the Corporation or through the contractors. In so distinguishing between its own employees and the Kamgaars, the Corporation is seen to be making a tacit statement, that the Kamgaars though discharging the Covid related duties as the Corporation’s own employees, are either not ‘risking their lives’, or despite doing so, need to be paid differently only due to their employer being the contractor and not the Corporation. To say the least, this would be an extremely unfair and unjust yardstick to use, to value human lives differently”.

-India Legal Bureau

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