The Bombay High Court’s Aurangabad bench Thursday said that the employers can 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 by the state government.
A single-judge bench of justice Ravindra V Ghuge was hearing a plea by five manufacturing companies Precicut Engineering Pvt Ltd, Poona Christian Medical Association, CTR Manufacturing Industries Pvt Ltd, Bhogale Automotive Private Ltd and Align Components Pvt. Ltd.
The manufacturers 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 Covid-19 lockdwon situation.
The counsel for petitioner organisations advocate T K Prabhakaran challenged the MHA notification and said they were seeking exemption from paying their workers during current situation despite their willingness to work, since the manufacturing activities have been restricted due to the coronavirus lockdown.
However, it was submitted by manufacturers that they would pay 50 per cent of the gross wages or minimum rates of wages as per Minimum Wages law, whichever is higher.
Advocate D G Nagode for the Centre and advocate D R Kale for the state sought time to take instructions from authorities and to respond to the plea.
Justice Ghuge, however, declined to interfere in the MHA order for the time-being, stating that 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 government’s finance ministry, which had permitted 50 per cent payment to state employees and remainder payment was deferred.
“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 cases of those workers who are not required to report for duties,” observed Justice Ghuge.
The court clarified that since Maharashtra Government has partially lifted the lockdown in certain industrial areas, workers would be expected to report to their duties as per shift schedules with adequate protection from Covid-19 infection provided by the employers.
Granting liberty to manufacturers to deduct wages for voluntary absence of workers, Justice Ghuge said, “In the event 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 lock down.”
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 petitioner companies 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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