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Madras High Court reviews laid-off workers’ plight during pandemic, seeks statewide report

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The Madras High Court recently reviewed the plight of workers laid off during the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown imposed by the Centre, which resulted in the loss of income of many workers/employees owing to non-employment. Equally, the employers were also facing huge monetary losses owing to non-production.

A single-judge bench of  Justice M.S. Ramesh noted, “It is no doubt true that the Covid-19 pandemic has created a disaster, affecting the conditions of service of the workers/employees, as well as the business activities of the employers, particularly in industries, factories and other establishments to which labour and industrial laws apply.”

The Court directed the Secretary, Labour Welfare and Skill Development Employment, to assess the situation in consultation with all the Commissioners of Labour, and file a detailed report with regard to the conditions of service, non-employment particulars of the workers/ employees in the state of Tamil Nadu. Along with a comparison between the period immediately before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and post lock-down relaxation.

The bench observed, that however, post-relaxation of the lockdown announced by the Government, the Court has been witnessing many cases where the workers/employees, who were retrenched/laid off during the lock-down period, have not been reinstated, even though there has been considerable relaxation of the lock-down regulations and the businesses of the employers had resumed.

“In other words, some of the employers seem to have exploited this unprecedented situation and have effectively disengaged the services of some their workers/employees, without following the procedure for such disengagement under labour laws,” stated the bench.

The court noted further, “Though the Covid-19 pandemic situation could be termed as a misfortune, the employers cannot be permitted to make a fortune out of this misfortune. This Court has not come across any Government Orders or notifications addressing this crisis, whereby countless numbers of workers/employees have been retrenched/laid off by violating the legal procedures for such retrenchment/lay off.” The matter is listed on November 29 for further hearing.

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