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Allahabad High Court directs Labour Court to decide on legality of deduction of salaries by Indian Express during Covid-19 within 6 months

The High Court of Allahabad has directed the Labour Court to decide within six months, the legality of the Indian Express deducting salaries of its employees during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Single-Judge Bench of Justice Saurabh Shyam Shamshery passed the order on a bunch of petitions filed by some employees of the Indian Express, contending that they provided services even during the pandemic, between April 1, 2020, to February 28, 2021, but the daily still deducted a certain percentage of their monthly salary.

The High Court directed the Prescribed Authority under The Working Journalists And Other Newspaper Employees (Conditions Of Service) And Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1955, to refer the matter to the Labour Court within two weeks.

By entering into the arena of dispute to decide on the legality of deduction, the Authority had acted beyond its jurisdiction provided under Section 17(1) of the 1955 Act and committed legal error by not making reference to the Labour Court, noted Justice Shamshery and quashed the December 7, 2022 order passed by the Prescribed Authority. 

The High Court further directed the Labour Court to conclude the proceedings within a period of six months, subject to ‘other business’ of the Court.

It also granted liberty to the Indian Express to have a meeting with the employees, who have supported it during the Covid-19 pandemic, to settle the dispute with regard to deduction of salary even beyond the lockdown period. 

The Single-Judge Bench suggested the English daily to give an approximate amount as refund to the employees, if possible.

The Court observed in its order that the parties have not seriously disputed the legal position with regard to the issue that application by a newspaper employee was to be filed under sub-section (1) of Section 17 of 1955 as per Rule 36 of the Working Journalists (Conditions of Service) and Miscellaneous Provisions Rules, 1957.

Where a question or dispute arises then a reference is to be made to Labour Court for adjudication of dispute,” observed the court.

The court further explained that after adjudicating the dispute, the Labour Court has to forward its decision to the State Government or authority which made the reference, upon which the amount is to be recovered in the manner provided by sub-section (1) of Section 17 of the 1955 Act.

“Since Section 17, as a whole, creates a single seamless scheme, the State Government, in exercise of its power under sub-section (1) can specify an authority to do all acts which it has power to do under Section 17 of Act, 1955,” it added.

The Counsel representing the Indian Express argued that when the employer had come up with a case that deduction was legal and contrary to it the respondents-workmen had submitted that it was an illegal deduction, the correct procedure was to refer the matter to the Labour Court.

He further contended that MHA’s notification for payment of wages without any deduction by employers during the lockdown period was arbitrary and did not consider that the industry suffered financial loss due to irregular publication of newspapers and magazines during the period.

The Counsel representing the workmen submitted that they ensured that publication was not discontinued and that newspapers were published and circulated effectively initially through online mode and thereafter by physical circulation.

He further said that the period of deduction of salary was beyond the lockdown period also. No reason was afforded prior to deduction and no prior notice was issued. The amount was not disputed as well as the employer has not disputed it during the relevant period publication.

(Case title: The Indian Express Pvt. Ltd vs Union Of India And 15 others)

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