The Supreme Court on Thursday quashed a Gujarat government notification exempting factories from paying overtime wages to workers, saying the coronavirus pandemic cannot be a reason to remove statutory provisions of labour laws, Live Law reported.

A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, KM Joseph and Indu Malhotra said pandemic cannot be a reason to do away with the requirements of the law that provide dignity and rights to workers. The court said the coronavirus crisis is not a public emergency that is threatening the security of the country under the Factories Act. It said the entire burden of economic slowdown cannot be imposed on the workers alone, according to News18.

During the nationwide lockdown, the Gujarat government in April exempted factories from the provisions of the Factories Act. A notification was passed by the state after exercising its powers under Section 5 of the Act, which allows exemptions only for public emergency. The state government also did away with the requirement of payment of double wages for overtime and permitted overtime hours to be compensated at normal working wages per hour.

A petition was filed by the Gujarat Mazdoor Sabha and Trade Union Centre of India. “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,” it said.

The petition challenged the notification on the grounds that the state has acted ultra vires to the powers vested upon it, according to Bar and Bench. The coronavirus pandemic, despite being a critical matter affecting the country, has still not been declared as an emergency.

“ is amply clear that the Gujarat government has misused section 5 to suspend key provisions of the Factories Act, 1948, which offer basic and fundamental protections to workers, especially in a time where workers are most vulnerable, economically and socially.”

— The petition

Labour laws

On May 6, the Uttar Pradesh Cabinet decided to suspend 35 of the 38 labour laws in the state for three years. Three laws have been exempted from the ordinance: the Building and Other Construction Workers Act, 1996; the Workmen Compensation Act, 1923, and the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976. Section 5 of the Payment of Wages Act, which relates to timely payment of wages, will also continue to be in force. Madhya Pradesh exempted firms from inspections by the labour department and maintenance of registers while also allowing flexibility in extending the shifts of workers.

At least seven states have raised maximum working hours from 48 to 72 a week. Factory workers in India may now be required to work 12 hours a day, with six-hour shifts spread over 13 hours. While Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana will pay overtime rates specified under Section 59 of the Factories Act of 1948, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh have said that they will pay only regular wages.

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Eight-hour day: States are using the pandemic to deny factory workers a hard-won right