Supreme Court issues notice to State of Gujarat in plea challenging notification for relaxation of labour laws
Litigation News

Supreme Court issues notice to State of Gujarat in plea challenging notification for relaxation of labour laws

This notification by the Gujarat government had exempted factories from complying with provisions pertaining to overtime wages, working hours etc, between April 20 and July 19.

Shruti Mahajan

The Supreme Court on Tuesday issued notice to the State of Gujarat in a petition challenging the decision to exempt factories from the provisions of the Factories Act relating to work hours, among others (Gujarat Mazdoor Sabha & Anr. v. State of Gujarat).

During the nationwide lockdown, in April this year, the Gujarat government issued a notification exempting factories in the state from certain provisions under the Factories Act between April 20 and July 19. This notification was passed by the state in purported exercise of its powers under Section 5 of the Act.

The notification essentially exempted factories from the mandate to comply with the provisions of the Factories Act which deal with payment of overtime wages, working hours fixed for the workers, resting intervals, etc. The petition filed by the Gujarat Mazdoor Sabha and Trade Union Centre of India says:

"The impugned Notification exempts factories from sections 51, 54, 55 and 56 of the Act on various conditions which are, that for the period from April 20 to July 19, 2020, workers in Gujarat can be made to work 12 hours in a day, 72 hours in a week with a 30 minutes break after 6 hours."

While granting this exemption to the factories, the state government also did away with the requirement of payment of double wages for overtime and allows for overtime hours to be compensated at normal working wages per hour.

"This is blatantly against section 59 of the Act which mandates that wages must be paid at double the ordinary rate for hours worked in excess of 9 hours in a day."
Plea filed in Supreme Court

This notification is challenged on the grounds that the state has acted ultra vires the Act, considering the fact that Section 5 only allows for exemption in cases of public emergency. The COVID-19 pandemic, while being a critical issue affecting the country, has still not been declared as an emergency.

Therefore, the state government could not have exercised this power under Section 5 of the Factories Act, the plea filed through Advocate Aparna Bhat states.

The provision under Section 5 allows for an exemption to be granted to a factory or a class of factories. However, the notification under challenge has given a blanket exemption, and is therefore liable to be quashed, the petition further contends. It adds,

"...it is amply clear that the Gujarat Government has misused section 5 to suspend key provisions of the Factories Act, 1948, which offer basic and fundamental protections to workers, especially in a time where workers are most vulnerable, economically and socially."

The Bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and KM Joseph on Tuesday issued notice in this plea. The matter has been listed for September 1.

It is pertinent to note that the Supreme Court had earlier declined to entertain petitions that challenged the relaxation of labour laws in various states. As regards the State of Uttar Pradesh, a similar contentious government order was withdrawn by the state amid protests over the same.

Read Petition:

Gujarat Mazdoor Sabha vs State of Gujarat.pdf
Preview

Read Order:

Gujarat Mazdoor Sabha vs State of Gujarat - 04.08.2020.pdf
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