HIND KAMGAR SANGHATANA Vs. STATE OF MAHARASHTRA
HIGH COURT OF BOMBAY
Hind Kamgar Sanghatana
STATE OF MAHARASHTRA
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(1.) Heard Ms. Gayatri Singh, learned Senior Counsel for the petitioners; Ms. Salunkhe, learned AGP for respondent Nos.1 to 6-State; and Mr. Shailesh Naidu, learned counsel for respondent No.7.
(2.) First petitioner is a trade union claiming to represent 150 workers of M/s. India Steel Limited, respondent No.7. Petitioner Nos.2 and 3 are workers of respondent No.7 who are also members of petitioner No.1.
(3.) This petition has been filed under Article 226 of the Constitution of India whereby and where under petitioners seek a direction to respondent Nos.3 and 4 to ensure that workers of respondent No.7 are paid full wages from December 2019 onwards. Petitioners also seek a direction to respondent Nos.3 and 4 to ensure that respondent No.7 takes all necessary measures for safety of its workers in its industrial plant at Khopoli in the district of Raigad and also to make suitable arrangement for transportation of the workers in view of restrictions imposed by the state to combat COVID-19 pandemic. Further prayer made is for a direction to respondent Nos.3 and 4 to initiate appropriate proceedings under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 against respondent No.7 and its officials for failure to comply with the directions of the central as well as state governments issued during the lockdown to curtail the spread of COVID-19.
3.1. Respondent No.7 is a company which is engaged in the manufacture of steel bright bars and has a steel melting and rolling plant at Khopoli in the district of Raigad. Industrial plant of respondent No.7 at Khopoli has two furnaces of 20 tonnes and 25 tonnes respectively, employing about 150 workers, both skilled and unskilled.
3.2. On 11.03.2020, World Health Organization (WHO) declared corona virus, known as COVID-19, as a global pandemic. Following the same, Government of India invoked the Disaster Management Act, 2005 and declared nation wide lockdown for a period of 21 days on 24.03.2020. Guidelines were issued by the National Disaster Management Authority for maintaining social distancing as well as the steps to be taken to prevent and arrest the spread of the pandemic. State of Maharashtra also enforced the aforesaid lockdown which was subsequently extended from time to time. In the meanwhile, guidelines issued for maintaining social distancing during the lockdown were revised from time to time by both the central government as well as by the state government.
3.3. According to the petitioners, workers of respondent No.7 were not paid wages from December 2019 onwards despite reporting for work regularly. It is stated that respondent No.7 was fully operational and all its workers had reported for duty during the period from December 2019 to March 2020 but they did not receive any wages for this period.
3.4. Though initially verbal instructions were issued by respondent No.7 to the workers to stop reporting for work from 19.03.2020, subsequently specific instructions were issued on 23.03.2020 calling upon the workmen not to report for work with effect from 24.03.2020.
3.5. Petitioners have stated that respondent No.7 was fully operational in its activities prior to the lockdown but halted its functioning from 24.03.2020 onwards due to declaration of lockdown. Subsequently, as per the guidelines of the central government dated 15.04.2020, industrial enterprises like respondent No.7 were permitted to commence operations being a permitted industrial establishment located in an industrial estate. But at the same time, central government had made it abundantly clear that certain conditions were required to be fulfilled for restarting industrial activities. Such standard operating procedure and related guidelines were in force till 18.05.2020. Allegation of the petitioners is that such standard operating procedure and guidelines were not followed by the management of respondent No.7 and carried out industrial activities in complete contravention of the guidelines.
3.6. As per order of the state government dated 02.05.2020, the industrial plant of respondent No.7 was located in an orange zone. Workers reside at far-off places and not nearby the factory. Because of restrictions imposed, they could not commute from their residence to the factory premises as they did not have any transportation of their own. As a matter of fact, no arrangements were made by respondent No.7 for transportation of the workers from their residence to the industrial plant or for stay of the workers in and around the factory premises. Notwithstanding the same, some of the workers did manage to make the journey from their residence to the industrial plant on their own but they were prevented from entering through the main gates of the factory. Other workers were unable to report for duty as no transportation was arranged by respondent No.7.
3.7. Result of the above was that workers in dire need of wages and fully willing to work were either unable to reach the premises of respondent No.7 or not allowed to enter.
3.8. Acting on a complaint made by the petitioners that respondent No.7 did not pay wages to the workers from December 2019 onwards, respondent No.5 i.e., Deputy Commissioner of Labour, Raigad issued a show cause notice to respondent No.7 on 04.05.2020 stating that respondent No.7 had violated section 5 of the Payment of Wages Act, 1936 and called upon respondent No.7 to clear the due wages of the workers with immediate effect. Unfortunately, respondent 3 No.7 has not complied with the said show cause notice.
3.9. On the other hand respondent No.7 issued a notice dated 07.05.2020 alleging that its plant was closed on 20.03.2020 and that the workers had decided to stay at home much before declaration of lockdown further alleging that the workers represented by the petitioners had initiated an illegal strike against the company. Workers were called upon to resume their duties.
3.10. Petitioners have denied the allegations made against the workers by respondent No.7 in the notice dated 07.05.2020. Besides, petitioners have contended that respondent No.7 had not paid wages of the workers for the months of December 2019, January 2020 and February 2020. Petitioners responded to the said notice by a detailed letter dated 11.05.2020 particularly refuting the allegation that the workers were on strike.
3.11. It is stated that on 04.04.2020, a token payment of only Rs. 1000.00 was made to the workers for the month of March 2020 and thereafter an amount of Rs. 4,000.00 was paid on 16.04.2020 for the month of April 2020 which cannot be construed to be adequate payment considering the fact that no worker of respondent No.7 receives wages below Rs.8,000.00 per month. It is further stated that no worker of respondent No.7 has received more than 50% of a single month's salary for the months of March, April and May 2020, besides not receiving any payment for the previous months of December 2019, January 2020 and February 2020.
3.12. It is further stated that respondent No.7 had circulated a notice dated 27.04.2020 sanctioning only 45 workers to report for duty. According to the petitioners, this will only go to show that there was no strike by the workers. Had the workers been on strike, question of calling the said group of workmen to report for duty would not have arisen.
3.13. After the lockdown was extended from 19.05.2020 till 31.05.2020, the workers made an attempt to reach the factory premises to report for work. However, they were not allowed to enter the premises. Resultantly, they waited the whole day outside the main gates of the factory with the hope that they would be allowed to enter into the factory premises and to resume their work but it was to no avail.
3.14. Petitioners have relied upon a circular dated 20.03.2020 of the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Government of India as well as order of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India dated 29.03.2020 issued under section 10(2) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 calling upon all employers to make payment of wages to their workers on the due date without any deduction for the period the establishment was under closure during the lockdown.
3.15. Reliance is also placed on consequential notification dated 31.03.2020 of the Industry, Energy and Labour Department, Government of Maharashtra clarifying that all the factory workers who had to remain at home due to outbreak of COVID-19 and lockdown should be deemed to be on duty and should be paid their full wages. In contravention of the above government directives, respondent No.7 has paid only Rs. 1000.00 and Rs. 4,000.00 respectively to the workers for the months of March and April 2020 besides wages for the months of December 2019, January 2020 and February 2020 having not been paid.
3.16. Petitioners had also represented before respondent Nos.1 to 6 on 13.05.2020 regarding non-payment of wages by respondent No.7 and the resultant distress conditions of the workmen. Unfortunately no action has been taken by respondent Nos.1 to 6 against respondent No.7.
3.17. It is with the above grievance that the present writ petition has been filed seeking the reliefs as indicated above. ;
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