New Delhi, Aug 5 : The Supreme Court on Tuesday issued notice challenging the notification of the Gujarat Labour and Employment Department, granting exemptions to all factories in the state from provisions of the Factories Act, 1948, relating to daily working hours, weekly working hours, intervals for rest, and even from the duty to pay overtime wages at double rate as fixed under the Act’s Section 59.
The plea, filed by Gujarat Mazdoor Sabha, a registered trade union, and others, through advocate Aparna Bhat, contended that April 17 notification “is patently illegal, violative and unnaturally unjust of various fundamental rights, statutory rights and labour laws”.
A bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and K.M. Joseph took up the plea, through video conferencing, and issued notice after a hearing.
The plea contended that the notification, granting exemption from the provisions of the Act for the period from April 20 to July 19, mandates that for the period, workers in Gujarat could be made to work 12 hours in a day, 72 hours in a week with a 30 minutes break after six hours. However, the Factories Act, 1948, provides that workers can only be made to work nine hours in a day – but 48 hours in a week, with one weekly off – thus coming to 8 hours in a day, with a 30 minutes break after five hours.
The notification further provides that no women workers will be allowed to work between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m.
“Most disturbingly, the impugned notification prescribes that no overtime at double rate will be paid for the extra four hours worked per day, but rather that overtime work will merely be compensated at the usual hourly rate,” said the plea.
The petitioner argued that the notification expressly states that wages for the extra hours will be paid “in proportion to the existing wage (e.g., if wages for eight hours is Rs 80, then proportionate wages for twelve hours will be Rs 120”). “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 (including one hour break) and 48 hours in a week,” added the plea.
The plea submitted that this notification states that the workers will be not only be grossly overworked, but the fact that the direction for no payment of overtime rate for overtime worked “just adds a sordid element of cruelty to a blatantly illegal notification, all in respect of the workers who are quite literally risking their lives to ensure the sustenance of the economy”.
The petitioners argued that “the shocking extension of working hours is being directed at a time when the most basic medical and scientific advice to avoid contracting the deadly Covid-19 is to take rest and stay as healthy as possible” as they urged the apex court to issue directions to stay this notification.
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