The Karnataka High Court issued notice to the State Government in a plea filed against a Government notification relaxing provisions of the Factories Act, 1948 for factory workers in Karnataka until August 21, 2020.
The Court has also taken critical note that no direction has been given to factories and factory workers to ensure that all safety norms amid COVID-19, such as the use of masks, provision of sanitisers, social distancing etc. should be made
Division Bench comprising of Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Sachin Shankar Magadum has also asked the State Government to explain how the Factory Act provisions could have been relaxed in a blanket manner for all factories and factory workers.
The Bench had noted that “Prima facie, Section 5 of the factories Act of 1948 does not contemplate grant of a blanket exemption in favour of all the factories.
Therefore, it has directed as follows:
“The State will have to explain how the power under Section 5 of the Factories Act, 1948 could be exercised in a blanket manner by granting exemption to all the factories. Section 5 of the said Act of 1948 contemplates exercise of the power to grant exemption in respect of any factory or class or description of factories.”
The petition has been filed through Advocates Basawa Kunale and Hemanth Rao.
The petition before the Court by one, Maruthi H, points out that though the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a notification on March 29 directing employers to pay full wages to the factory workers, the Supreme Court subsequently had passed an interim order directing the Union Government not to take any “coercive action.”
The State Government passed a notification to increase the number of working hours from 9 to 10 hours per day.
“In effect, the impugned Notification has extended daily working hours to 10 hours from 9 hours per day and to 60 hours from 48 hours per week. Thus, the workers have to work an extra of 1 hour per day and 12 hours per week without overtime wages”, the petitioner stated.
The petitioner points out that “The COVID-19 pandemic is a public health emergency and does not come within the ambit of any ‘war/external aggression/internal disturbance’. Both the Central and State Governments have ample power to address such a public health pandemic under the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 and Disaster Management Act, 2005 provide for health emergencies.”
The petitioner argued that the daily hours of factory workers have been increased without any reasonable justification. Therefore, the same amounts to “forced labour” and violates Fundamental rights enshrined under Articles 21 and 23 of the Constitution as well as various Directive Principles of State Policy.
On these grounds, the petition seeks to set aside the impugned notification as it is “illegal, arbitrary and in violation of the Constitutional and statutory safeguards provided to workers.”
The matter will be next heard on June 5.
Read the order here: