SC tells states not to prosecute employers for not paying workers during lockdown

The apex court has now asked for a response from the Government of India on a series of petitions filed by industrial units, which moved the court claiming that they have no means to pay wages since there is no production.

The Supreme Court of India on Friday ordered administrations across India not to prosecute employers who were unable to pay full wages to the workers during the COVID-19 related nationwide lockdown. With the order, the apex court stayed the operation of the March 29 circular issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).

According to reports, a bench comprising Justice L Nageswara Rao, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and BR Gavai asked the Centre and the states not to prosecute private companies and factories owners for non-payment of wages.

The apex court has now asked for a response from the Government of India on a series of petitions filed by industrial units, which moved the court claiming that they have no means to pay wages since there is no production. The petitioners argued that the government of India has not taken any steps for the workforce and instead put the entire burden on the employers/owners to pay full wages, said media reports on Friday.

The petitioners submitted before the top court that organisations should be completely exempted from paying their workforce during the nationwide lockdown implemented in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The petitioners challenged the constitutional validity of section 10 (2)(i) of the Disaster Management Act (DMA), 2005. Punjab based Ludhiana Hand Tools Association claimed that the March 29 MHA order under the DMA violated Article 14,19(1)(g), 265 and 300 of the Constitution of India  and that it must be "struck down". The petitioners maintained that section 25M of the Industrial Act provided for the right to lay-off workers due to natural calamity. 

First Published:June 12, 2020, 3:25 p.m.