A PIL has been filed in Supreme Court seeking directions to implement the Advisory issued by the Ministry of Labour and Employment so far as it relates to the directions to the employers of both the private and public companies to not lay off employees or cut their salaries, in the wake of the unprecedented lockdown situation due to the COVID-19 or novel Coronavirus crisis, in order to ensure the protection of the fundamental rights under Articles 14/19(1)(g)/21.
The abovementioned advisory was referred with the subsequent order issued by the Central Government on 29th March, 2020 and Maharashtra State Government resolution on 13th March, 2020 by its Industries, Energy and Labour Department.
The relevant para of the Advisory by Union ministry of Labour and Employment is given below: –
“..In the backdrop of such challenging situation, all the employers of public/ private establishments are advised to extend their coordination by not terminating their employees, particularly casual or contractual workers from job or reduce their wages”.
One of the petitioners is an advocate practicing in New Delhi and the other petitioner is the National Information Technology Employees Sena – (NITES) which is the unregistered Union working for welfare and benefits of IT/ITES and its related sector employees in Pune, whereas the respondent is the Central Government through “Union of India” and other State Governments of the country.
Petitioner National Information Technology Employees Sena – NITES have raised issues of more than 39000 employees and have filed petitions in Labour Departments and District Magistrate against illegal terminations, Reduction in wages, forceful resignation, deduction of earned leaves, forcing employees to apply leaves as vacation, Maternity Benefits & various other issues. National Information Technology Employees Sena – NITES also spread awareness amongst employees regarding labour laws and encourage them to unite and now more than 5000 employees have joined us on various platforms.
Its stated in the petition that due to the global break out of the pandemic of Covid 19, also called the novel coronavirus, the normalcy in the entire world was affected. Social distancing, being the only immediate manner of prevention of the spread of the pandemic widely, was prescribed and practiced. Being thus, several industries, business and companies have had to face temporary closure of operations. Further, this has led to the disruption of normal life globally.
The petitioners grievance is that several companies across the country have started to terminate its employees without any reasonable cause and have started withholding their salaries and in such testing times, the rights of the employees ought to be protected by necessary orders/directions to the companies through the Respondents to effectively implement the lockdown and to contain the spread of the virus.
“Various IT Companies in the country have initiated a drive of illegal mass termination of the employees, withholding of the salaries or illegal deduction of salaries in complete breach and violation of the directions/advisories and appeal made by Respondent No. 1 to 3 taking advantage of the deadlock situation which has emerged in the Country. It is submitted that the employers who are on dominant position are taking harsh decisions and unconscionable bargains with the employees. It is submitted that in few cases the employees through Petitioner No. 2 have approached the Labour 13 Commissioner, however, due to the lockdown no orders restraining the Employers has been passed so far and proceedings are not likely to be concluded”, states petition.
Therefore, its stated that in the absence of issuance of any binding directives/directions to the private companies, thousands of employees will be susceptible to losing their jobs/incomes, which will lead to an unprecedented economic situation – a situation that the country cannot afford and it is relevant to note that the Government’s order directs all commercial establishments, private offices, industrial establishments and factories to remain closed for twenty-one (21) days starting on March 24, 2020, which is further extended to 3rd May, 2020.
The petitioner mentions about the employees whose salaries have also been withheld and deducted without any basis and IT employees who stay away from their family are finding it difficult to even pay monthly rents, EMIs, manage daily expenses and other liabilities.
The petitioner prays for direction from the Supreme court to Government of India to ensure that employers in the private sector do not employ the course of mass termination of employees, and also to ensure that employers in the private sector at least make payment of a subsistence salary to the employees, without terminating employees unreasonably and illegally thereby protecting their rights under Articles 14, 19, and 21.
Petition seeks direction to initiate action against all such companies under Section 51 and 58 of the DMA Act, 2005 who are in breach of orders/circulars/advisories issued by the Ministry of Labour and Employment. It prays to provide immediate financial assistance after due verification to all such employees whose companies have closed their business after the lockdown was imposed in the country and also seeks direction to not to demand any school fees from students amid the COVID-19 lockdown.
-India Legal Bureau