The Delhi High Court on Saturday struck down a government notification that had fixed higher minimum wages for workers in the city in March 2017. The court said the notification was unconstitutional as neither employees nor employers were consulted before the decision, reported the Hindustan Times.
The Minimum Wages Act covers unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled workers in scheduled employment industries.
A bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar said the notification stemmed from “non-application of mind, is based on no material, and is in contravention of principles of natural justice”. The bench also quashed an earlier notification by the Delhi government, by which it had set up an advisory panel on minimum wages, according to The Hindu.
“The non-application of mind by the committee and the respondents [Delhi government], to the relevant material considerations, offends Article 14 of the Constitution of India,” it said. Article 14 deals with equality before law. “The flawed committee gave a report which was not based on relevant material, denied fair representation to the employers as well as the employees.”
Employers such as traders’ associations, petrol dealers and restaurants had moved the court to challenge the notification, saying the advisory panel had not heard them.
Reacting to the order, the Aam Aadmi Party said it disagreed with the High Court verdict and would decide its next step in favour of workers after studying the order, reported the Hindustan Times. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Sunday tweeted that this decision was a “huge setback” for the “large number of daily wage earners”.
Ishwar Sharma, secretary of Nirman Majdoor Panchayat Sangthan, said the decision would negatively affect over 10 lakh workers of the unorganised sector. “People are forced to work below minimum wages because of unemployment and cut-throat competition,” he told the Hindustan Times. “Most of the workers, especially those in unorganised sectors such as construction, never get paid anywhere close to the minimum wages.”
In 2016, the Delhi Legislative Assembly had passed the Minimum Wages (Delhi) Amendment Act but the Centre suggested a few changes and sent back the legislation. The bill was reintroduced in August 2017 and Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal approved a provision to hike minimum wages by 37%. This meant that minimum wages of unskilled workers increased from Rs 9,724 to Rs 13,350 per month. The figure for semi-skilled workers rose from Rs 10,764 to Rs 14,698, and from Rs 11,830 to Rs 16,182 for skilled labourers.
The Act also prescribed fines from Rs 20,000 to Rs 50,000 and a jail term of one to three years for those employers not paying the minimum wage, according to the Hindustan Times.