NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Monday refused to give any interim protection to the private sector, particularly the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) who had appealed against the Centre’s order directing full payment of salaries to employees.
Stating that their businesses had come to a standstill, a group of 11 MSMEs petitioned the top court to permit them to pay the workers 70 per cent less during the lockdown and also sought a direction to the government to pay the rest of the amount from the PM-CARES or any other funds. They also claimed that they had a right to lay off workers.
The petitioners argued that since the government had imposed the lockdown, the obligation to pay the salaries was on it and not on the employers.
“The government should be directed to subsidise the wages of the workers to the tune of 70% for lockdown period by utilising the funds collected by the Employees’ State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) or the PM Cares Fund or through any other government fund/scheme,” the petition said.
The petitioners have challenged the March 20 advisory by the Ministry of Labour and Employment and the March 29 order of the Ministry of Home Affairs as being violative of Articles 14 and 19(1)(g) of the Constitution of India.
The SC issued notice to the Centre and gave it two weeks’ time to respond to the concerns raised by the MSMEs.Pointing to the hardships being faced by the MSMEs, the petition stated, “Business of the petitioners has come to a standstill still due to the lockdown and on the other hand, the petitioners are being compelled under the impugned notifications to pay the wages to workers for entire lockdown period.
The petitioners are being further restrained from reducing their workforce, especially the casual or contract or migrant workers. The petitioners are under financial and mental stress because of the impugned notifications.”
The petitioners argued that should be allowed to lay off workers under Sections 25C and 25N of the Industrial Disputes Act under which, they claimed, permission from the government is not required if a layoff is due to a natural calamity.