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[Lockdown Salary Payment] SC directs the employers & workers to negotiate settlement: Extends interim protection from taking any coercive action against employers

The SC on June 12, 2020 {FICUS PAX PRIVATE LTD. & ORS. vs UNION OF INDIA & ORS.} held that the private establishment, industries, employers who are willing to enter into negotiation and settlement with the workers/employees regarding payment of wages for 50 days or for any other period as applicable in any particular State during which their industrial establishment was closed down due to lockdown, may initiate a process of negotiation with their employees organization and enter into a settlement with them and if they are unable to settle by themselves submit a request to concerned labour authorities who are entrusted with the obligation under the different statute to conciliate the dispute between the parties who on receiving such request, may call the concerned Employees Trade Union/workers Association/ workers to appear on a date for negotiation, conciliation and settlement. 

It was observed by the Bench, comprising of Justice Ashok Bhushan, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul & Justice M.R. Shah, that all industries/establishments are of different nature and of different capacity, including financial capacity. It was held that some of the industries and establishments may bear the financial burden of payment of wages or substantial wages during the lockdown period to its workers and employees. Some of them may not be able to bear the entire burden. It was held that a balance has to be struck between these two competitive claims. 

All these writ petitions had been filed in Supreme Court by different employers, employers’ associations questioning the orders issued under Disaster Management Act, 2005 and other consequential orders issued by different States where directions have been issued that all the employers be it in the industries or in the shops, commercial establishment, shall make payment of wages of their workers, at their work place, on the due date, without any deduction, for the period their establishments are under closure during the lockdown.

The SC held that it cannot be disputed that both Industry and Labourers need each other. It was held that no Industry or establishment can survive without employees/labourers and vice versa. It was also held that the private establishments, industries, factories shall permit the workers/employees to work in their establishment who are willing to work which may be without prejudice to rights of the workers/employees regarding unpaid wages of 50 days.

However, it was directed by the Court that in the meantime, no coercive action, against the employers shall be taken pursuant to notification dated 29.03.2020. It was directed that the said order shall continue in all the matters.

The SC held that in event, any settlement is entered between the employers and employees in the establishments which are before it, an affidavit giving details shall be filed by next date of hearing. The matter was directed to be listed further by the SC in last week of July.

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