MUMBAI: The Bombay High Court on Wednesday said all those on COVID-19 related duties, irrespective of whether they are directly employed or contractual labourers, have to be treated equally, and directed the Navi Mumbai civic body to extend daily allowance benefits to contract workers also.
Justice S J Kathawalla gave the order while hearing a petition filed by Samaj Samata Kamgaar Sena, a union of 6,277 contract workers employed with the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC), seeking direction to the civic body to arrange for hand gloves, sanitisers and personal protective equipment (PPE) kits for all its members.
The petition also sought NMMC to include contract workers in the scheme announced by the civic chief, by which a daily allowance of Rs 300 is given to all civic body workers.
According to the petition, out of 6,277 workers, 3,261 are involved in day-to-day cleaning of roads and transportation of garbage, 693 are working in the health department, which includes duties at the four corporation hospitals and 23 urban health posts across Navi Mumbai.
Nearly 65 workers are on cemetery cleaning duty.
NMMC advocate Sandeep Marne told the court that since the petitioner unions members are contract labourers employed by contractors, they are not entitled to claim parity and seek daily allowance which the corporation has agreed to pay its officers and workers.
However, Justice Kathawalla said, "In my view, the stand of the corporation is unfair, especially under the present circumstances.
Some of the contract workers are admittedly carrying out COVID-19 related duties, assigned by the corporation through contractors.
" Just as the civic body workers are facing difficulties in travelling from their residence to workplace and in procuring meals, it cannot be disputed that the contract workers too are facing the same problems, the court said.
In my view, the risk taken by them (contract workers) in carrying out COVID-19 related duties for the corporation cannot be differentiated or distinguished on their employment being through contractors, the judge said.
To say the least, this would be an extremely unfair and unjust yardstick to use, to value human lives differently, he said.
The court noted that in the present pandemic situation, when the contract workers are admittedly fulfilling their responsibilities by carrying out COVID-19 related duties by risking their lives, it is necessary for everyone to adopt a humane approach towards these warriors of COVID-19.
Marne told the court that not all members of the petitioner union are involved in duties related to COVID-19.
The bench then directed the corporation to certify names of the workers involved in COVID-19 related duties at the end of each month and forward the list to the petitioner union.
"The said certified contract workers shall be paid the daily allowance at the rate paid to other employees of the corporation, the court said.
The daily allowance amount shall be made to the contractor at the end of each month starting May 2020.
The contractor shall then disburse it among the entitled workers.
Another prayer sought by the petition was a direction to NMMC to extend benefits declared by Union Finance Minister under a special insurance scheme that covers ward boys, nurses, paramedics, technicians, and other health workers.
As per the plea, the corporation has said the scheme is not applicable to the petitioner union members.
Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh told the court that those who have been certified by the corporation as working in health care facilities and are involved in direct contact and care of COVID-19 patients, irrespective of whether they are direct workers or contract workers, shall be covered under the special Insurance Scheme.
The court then posted the matter for further hearing on June 12.