A writ petition was filed by a Karnataka based company Ficus Pax Pvt. Ltd. challenging the constitutional validity of a March 20th notification by the Labour Secretary. This Article examines the Doctrine of Harmonious Construction looking at this case at hand.
Doctrine of Harmonious Construction
Law, in the simplest terms, is a set of rules for the preservation of peace and security within society. The laws drafted by the legal experts are often vaguely or ambiguously worded. This led to the formulation of certain rules of interpretation of statutes.
The legislation has provided us with the primary rules of interpretation. These rules help resolve ambiguities. “Harmonious Construction” is one such rule. It works in cases where two or more than two provisions of the same Act are inconsistent with each other. It states that one should interpret the statute in such a manner that effect is given to both. According to this rule, one should read a statute as a whole. One provision of the Act should be construed with reference to other provisions in the same Act. It helps to make a consistent enactment of the whole statute. Such an interpretation is beneficial in avoiding any inconsistencies in the statute.
A writ petition was filed by a Karnataka based company Ficus Pax Pvt. Ltd. challenging the constitutional validity of a March 20th notification by the Labour Secretary. It also challenged clause III of the March 29th notification by the Home Ministry. Both these compelled Payment of full wages to employees during the lockdown period. Different employers filed Writ Petitions. These petitions questioned the orders issued under the Disaster Management Act, 2005. It stated that all these employers should pay wages to their workers and ordered the payment of wages on the due date, without any deduction.
The case dealt with the question of whether employers are liable to pay full wages during the lockdown. It was in pursuance of the D.O. issued by the Secretary, Government of India. The D.O. invoked its power under Section 10(2) (1) of the Disaster Management Act 2005. It compelled the employers to shell out wages. This was despite the dire financial straits of several employers.
- Whether employers are liable to complete payment of wages during the lockdown?
- Whether the government can compel employers to make Payment under Section 10(2) (1) of the Disaster Management Act (2005)?
Arguments from both the sides
The petitioner stated that the notifications are arbitrary. He also alleged that they are contrary to the provisions of law, including Article 14, Article 19(1) (g). The Notifications are also contrary to the principles of Equal work Equal Pay and even No work No pay.
The Respondent stated that the right to wages is a pre-existing right. They also stated that it flows among other things from the contract of employment. It’s been enshrined in Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution. This right also encompasses other Acts. E.g. the Payment of wages Act, the Minimum Wages Act, and the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.
After considering both sides, the Court issued the following directives-
- No action will be taken for non-compliance with the notification dated 29.03.2020.
- The ground has to be reached between the claims made by the government and the employers. Both claims are equally valid.
- Some industries are suffering from severe financial crunch due to the lockdown. Hence, they should not be liable to pay via any order or directive.
- Trade Unions and Employee Associations must intervene and ensure seamless functioning of industries. They must also ensure the speedy resolution of disputes between employers and employees.
- Efforts to resolve disputes between workers and employers need to be undertaken. It can be achieved by way of settlement and negotiation.
- As an interim measure, the industries may start negotiations and reach a settlement, regardless of the Order of 29.03.2020.
- Industries must put up notices inviting workers to take part in the negotiation. They must also notify and publicize the Order for the same.
According to this doctrine, the Courts must try to avoid conflicts within the statutes as the Legislatures draft statutes. Even so, there is an anticipation of situations of ambiguity and conflicts. The pandemic has struck a severe blow to the functioning of industrial establishments. Accordingly, to solve this tussle, the “Harmonious Construction” principle has to be invoked. The Court’s directive to start negotiation processes between the employers and employees is a step in the right direction. They must also ensure further implementation of the same. In such situations, the rule of interpretation of statutes comes into use. The Court construes the provisions to give maximum effect to them. It enables them to render justice to the situation at hand.
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