The Supreme Court has quashed a notification, passed by the Gujarat government in April amid the coronavirus lockdown, which allowed all factories in the state to extend work shifts to up to 12 hours from the earlier eight hours and slashed overtime payment to half. The court further directed the state to pay overtime due to workers at the original rate.
"Burden cannot be put on workers during the (coronavirus) pandemic. It is not the appropriate response. Right to employment and fair wage are part of Right to Life," a three-judge bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra and KM Joesph said delivering the verdict through video conferencing.
The court added that the pandemic "cannot be called an internal emergency threatening the security of the nation to do away with requirements of the law".
The judgement was given on a petition filed by the Gujarat Mazdoor Sabha. The union had challenged the Gujarat Labour and Employment Department's decision exempting factories from provisions of the Factories Act-1948 governing payment of overtime wages, working hours fixed for the workers and resting intervals, among others, from April to July.
Gujarat was among the six states that had ordered longer shifts for workers post coronavirus lockdown. Several lockdown-hit businesses have expressed the inability to pay wages in full or in part.
The governments of these states - Gujarat, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan - had said the aim was to ensure that companies can operate with fewer workers and reduce the number of shifts, while meeting targets.