Monday, 30th October 2017

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Plea in SC: Onus on govt to pay wages

Petition says it’s unrealistic to expect the small establishments employing migrant workers to pay them

By Our Legal Correspondent in New Delhi
  • Published 3.04.20, 4:32 AM
  • Updated 3.04.20, 4:32 AM
  • 2 mins read
The Supreme Court of India (Wikipedia)

The government should pay the wages of migrant, contract and unorganised-sector workers during the lockdown instead of asking private employers to do so, a petition moved in the Supreme Court by rights activists Harsh Mander and Anjali Bharadwaj has said.

Citing the Disaster Management Act, 2005, the petition has sought a direction to the Centre and the states to ensure these workers are paid their wages and receive food, shelter and free medical aid.

Mander and Bharadwaj have argued that under the 2005 act, the government has a statutory obligation to provide such welfare during the lockdown.

The petition, which may come up for hearing on Friday or next week, says it’s unrealistic to expect the small establishments employing migrant workers to pay them.

Many of these establishments have been forced to shut down and cannot pay wages, it adds. Besides, many of the unorganised-sector workers, such as street vendors and rickshaw-pullers, are self-employed.

The petitioners have therefore sought these directions from the court to the central and state governments:

  • “Jointly and severally ensure payments of wages/ minimum wages to all the migrant workers within a week, whether employed by other establishments, contractors or self-employed, as they are unable to work and earn wages during the period of the lockdown.”
  • “Immediately activate national and state advisory committees of experts in the field of disaster management and public health and prepare national and state disaster management plans for dealing with the (Covid-19) epidemic, taking into account all relevant aspects, mitigation measure(s), their possible costs and consequences.”

The petition says that various statutes require governments to keep a record of migrant workers, whether employed in establishments or self-employed. If the governments have failed to maintain such records — thereby violating these statutes — a mechanism should be worked out immediately for workers to self-identify and self-attest, based on which the governments can release wages.

“It is submitted that the central and state authorities have the necessary power and consequential duty to direct that all daily wage earners be provided with their wages at the place where they are currently present under the lockdown,” the petition, filed through advocate Prashant Bhushan, says. “The lockdown has precipitated an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, especially among migrant workers, and it is the government(s), both central and state, that have to take adequate measures in accordance with the national and state plans drawn out under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, under the guidance of the advisory committees that these governments are mandated to constitute, to deal with this epidemic.”