Rights of Workers amidst the COVID-19 crisis
Issue 16 | October 04, 2020
Justice DY Chandrachud led a three-judge bench and quashed a notification issued by the Labour and Employment Department of the State of Gujarat under Section 5 of the Factories Act. The Act exempted all factories registered under it "from various provisions relating to weekly hours, daily hours, intervals for rest, amongst others, for adult workers" under Sections 51, 54, 55 and 56. In this context, the bench stated that the pandemic is not a "public emergency" within the meaning of Section 5 of the Factories Act threatening national security.
The notification further exempted factories from providing ideal working conditions and overtime wages to workers. The Court asserted that "the ‘right to life’ guaranteed to every individual under Article 21 which includes workers, would be devoid of an equal opportunity at social and economic freedom, in the absence of just and humane working conditions. A workers’ right to life cannot be deemed contingent on the mercy of their employer or the State. The notification, in denying humane working conditions and overtime wages provided by law, is an affront to the workers’ right to life and rights against forced labour secured by Articles 21 and 23 of the Constitution." Lastly, the bench directed that overtime wages shall be paid to all eligible workers who have been working since the issuance of the notifications.