In the Supreme Court of India
Gujarat Mazdoor Sabha & Anr. v. The State of Gujarat on Oct 1, 2020
Coram: D.Y. Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra and K.M. Joseph
Writ Petition (Civil) No. 708 of 2020
Petitioner: Gujarat Mazdoor Sabha & Anr
Respondent: The State of Gujarat
Due to the nationwide spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, Central Government declared lockdown all over the country. Consequentially, economic activities halted & even the lockdown was extended several times. On 17 April 2020, the Labour and Employment Department of the State of Gujarat issued a notification under Section 5 of the Factories Act exempting all factories registered under the Act “from various provisions relating to weekly hours, daily hours, intervals for rest, etc. for adult workers” under Sections 51, 54, 55 and 56. The notification was aimed at “certain relaxations for industrial and commercial activities”. The government justified the issuance of notice on the ground that industrial employers are facing financial stringency and overhaul of economic activities. After the issuance of the first notification, the government issued a similar notice on July 20, 2020, & extended the exemptions granted to the factories. The petitioner, a trade union of Gujarat & another national-level trade union filed a petition under Article 32 of the Constitution to challenge the validity of the state’s notifications dated 17 April 2020 and 20 July 2020.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court while deliberating over the aforesaid issues noted that the Factories Act was primarily enacted to guard the interest of workers and to make sure a dignified life for them. The Hon’ble Court observed that Section 5 of the Factories Act empowers the State Governments to exempt any factory, class, or description of factories from all or any of the provisions of the Act, except Section 67 when a ‘public emergency’ situation emerges. As per Section 5 of the Factories Act, a public emergency has got to be a grave emergency whereby the safety of India or any part of the territory thereof is threatened either by
Thus, on the observation of the Supreme Court, the powers specified in Sec 5 of the Factories Act can only be exercised on the existence of such ‘public emergency’, which in the case here, is not. The covid-19 pandemic cannot be considered as an ‘internal disturbance’ as contended by the respondent. Thus, the pandemic in no way threatens the safety of India or any parts of its territories, and thus, does not qualify as a ‘public emergency’ within the meaning of Section 5 of the Factories Act.
As for the second issue, the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that: “…To a worker who has faced the brunt of the pandemic and is currently laboring during a workplace without the posh of physical distancing, economic dignity supported the rights available under the statute is that the least that this Court can ensure them…” The Court held that the objective of the notification is contrary to the objective of the Factories Act. The Court declared the only purpose of bringing such notification was to reduce all the factories’ overhead costs without minding the nature of manufactured products. As per the Court, the Factories’ Act has been enacted to keep a check on the unequal bargaining power between the employers and the workers. Because of such unequal bargaining position that is mentioned in Sec 59 of the Factories Act, the wages for overtime shall be twice the ordinary wages. The Court also noticed that the impugned notifications violated the Article 21, 23 & 24 of the Indian Constitution and Directive Principles Of State Policy like Article 38, 39, 42, and 43 were too rejected.
So, Writ petition was allowed by the Court and Notification No. dated 17 April 2020 and another Notification dated 20 July 2020 issued by the Labour and Employment Department of the Respondent State was quashed & the Hon’ble Court further exercising their powers under Article 142 of the Constitution, directed the payment of overtime wages, by the provisions of the Factories Act to all the workers who have continued working in the conditions provided since the issuance of the impugned notifications.