The Bombay High Court’s Aurangabad bench on Thursday said employers may deduct wages as per procedures laid down in the law for employees who voluntarily remain absent in areas where COVID-19 restrictions have been relaxed.
Justice Ravindra V Ghuge was hearing a plea filed by five manufacturing companies, who had challenged a notification issued by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on March 29 that prescribed employers to pay their employees, including migrants and contract workers, full monthly wages in view of the lockdown situation.
The counsel for the companies, advocate T K Prabhakaran, said they were seeking exemption from paying their workers – despite the workers being willing to come to work – since manufacturing activities have been restricted due to the lockdown.
The manufacturers submitted that they would pay 50 per cent of the gross wages or minimum rates of wages as per minimum wages law, whichever is higher.
While advocate D G Nagode, appearing for the Centre, and advocate D R Kale, representing the state, sought time to take instructions from authorities, Justice Ghuge declined to interfere in the MHA order for the time-being, stating that a similar case is pending before the Supreme Court.
The bench noted that the Supreme Court, on April 27, had not given any interim relief in similar pleas and had adjourned the hearing. Moreover, the Kerala High Court had stayed an order issued by Kerala finance ministry, which had permitted 50 per cent payment to state employees and deferred remaining.
“I would not be inclined to interfere with the impugned MHA order and would expect the petitioners to pay the gross monthly wages to the employees, save and except conveyance allowance and food allowance, if being paid on month to month basis in the case of those workers who are not required to report for duties,” observed Justice Ghuge.
The court clarified that since Maharashtra has partially lifted the lockdown in certain industrial areas, workers would be expected to report to work.
It,, however, added: “In the event that such workers voluntarily remain absent, the management would be at liberty to deduct their wages for their absence subject to the procedure laid down in law while initiating such action. This would apply even to areas where there may not have been a lockdown.”
The court also granted liberty to trade unions and workers’ representatives to file intervention applications in the plea.
Justice Ghuge said that payment of gross wages by the petitioners to their workers, save and except conveyance/food allowance, shall be subject to result of the plea and posted further hearing on May 18.
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