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Supreme Court strikes down restrictive Gujarat govt rules regarding change in labour laws

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This Court is cognizant that the State of Gujarat aimed to ameliorate the financial exigencies that were caused due to the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown. However, financial losses cannot be offset on the weary shoulders of the laboring worker, who provides the backbone of the economy, Justice DY Chandrachud.

New Delhi (ILNS): The Supreme Court today has struck down the April 17 notification of the Gujarat Labour and Employment Department, which grants exemption to all factories in Gujarat from provisions of the Factories Act, 1948 relating to daily working hours, weekly working hours, intervals for rest and spread-overs of adult workers and even from the duty to pay overtime wages at double rates as fixed under section 59 of the Act.

The bench comprising Justices D. Y. Chandrachud and K. M. Joseph passed the order on a plea filed by ‘Gujarat Mazdoor Sabha’, a registered trade union which contended that the impugned notification has been purported to be issued under the powers conferred by section 5 of the Act and grants exemption from the aforementioned provisions of the Act for the period from April 20 to July 19, 2020.

The petitioner Union had submitted that “The impugned notifications exempts factories from sections 51, 54, 55, and 56 of the Act on various conditions which are, that for the period from April 20 to July 19, 2020, workers in Gujarat can be made to work 12 hours in a day, 72 hours in a week with 30 minutes break after 6 hours. The Factories Act, 1948, otherwise provides that workers can only be made to work 9 hours in a day- but 48 hours in a week, with 1 weekly off- thus coming to 8 hours in a day (sections 51, 52, and 54), with 30 minutes break after 5 hours (section 55).

The impugned notification further provides that no women workers will be allowed to work between 7pm & 6am. Moreover, the impugned notification prescribes that no overtime at double rate will be paid for the extra four hours worked per day, but rather that overtime work will merely be compensated at the usual hourly rate, the plea said.

The petitioners contended that “this is blatantly against section 59 of the Act which mandates that wages must be paid at double the ordinary rate for hours worked in excess of 9 hours in a day (including 1-hour break) & 48 hours in a week.”

The petitioners further stated  that vide the impugned notification under section 5 of the Factories Act, 1948 the Gujarat Government has acted ultra vires its powers under the said section, Section 5 empowers State Governments’ “in a case of public emergency” to grant exemption to any factory or class or description of factories from all or any of the provisions of the Act (except section 67) for such period and subject to such conditions as it may think fit, for a period not exceeding three months at a time. However, the same section provides that “public emergency” means a grave emergency whereby the security of India or of any part of the territory thereof is threatened, whether by war or external aggression or internal disturbance.”

The bench has directed that overtime wages should be paid to all eligible workers in Gujarat between April 20 and July 19, when the state government’s notification was in operation.

Read the judgment here;

Gujarat-Mazdoor-Sabha-Anr.

-ILNS

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