A public interest litigation (PIL) was filed in the Supreme Court on Thursday challenging the decisions of Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh to exempt industrial units from labour welfare statutes, allowing them to take steps such as increasing daily and weekly working hours and depriving workers of their right to move courts on the ground of COVID-19 pandemic.
The (PIL) alleged that these states wrongly used Section 5 of the Factories Act, 1948, which allows states to exempt industrial units from observing labour welfare statutes during public emergency. It also said that the states came out with notifications to allow such firms to effect increase in daily and weekly working hours, deprive workmen from approaching courts of law and exempt factories from undergoing routine inspection by the Factories Inspectors.
The plea, filed by Pankaj Kumar Yadav, through lawyer Nirmal Kumar Ambastha, has sought quashing of the notifications issued by the three states under the Factories Act on the ground that they were violative of right of equality and life under the Constitution.
Referring to a notification of April 17 of Gujarat, the plea said it granted certain exemption by exercising powers conferred under section 5 of the Factories Act, 1948 and extended the maximum working hours from 8 to 12 hours per day and from 48 to 72 hours per week.
This exemption enabled the industries to hire only those workers, who are willing to work for 12 hours per day instead of 8 hours and, that too, without liability to pay over-time wages for the extra four hours.
One of the notifications exempted industrial units, employing 50 workers, from routine inspection by Factory Inspector and rather allowed them to submit Third Party Certification regarding compliance of various provisions of Factories Act, it said.
These exemptions from the provisions of the pre-Constitution statutes have been granted by way of executive orders by various state governments to facilitate economic activities to the detriment of the workers and advantage of the employers in view of the global pandemic COVID-19, the PIL said.
Lakhs of workers have lost jobs during the lockdown and under such circumstances, the withdrawal of welfare measures would further compound their miseries and exploitation at the hands of their employers, it said.
The plea challenged the use of section 5 of the Factories Act by the states in exempting industrial units from statutory obligations on the ground of public emergency.
It said that the power can be used in "public emergency which means a grave emergency whereby the security of India or of any part of the territory thereof is threatened, whether by war or external aggression or internal disturbance".
The plea also sought direction for the states to refrain from abrogating the statutory provisions under various statutes enacted for welfare of the workmen in view of the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic.