Bombay HC: Non-Payment of Due Wages to the Workers Violate Article 21 of the Constitution

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The Bombay High Court has reprimanded the respondent’s company for denial of wages to its workmen. The Court held that the financial instability of the company cannot be a ground for non-payment. This is for the reason that any action thereto shall violate the statutory and constitutional provisions.

Brief Facts of the Case

The petitioner represented the trade union of 150 workers of a steel manufacturing factory in Maharashtra. The petitioner contended that the workers did not receive any remuneration despite fully operational unit since December 2019. Moreover, after the declaration of lockdown, the respondents did not comply with the standard operating procedure for industrial activities.

Further, the petitioner filed a complaint with the Deputy Commissioner of Labor, Raigad. The authority issued a show-cause notice to the respondent company for violating Section 5 of the Payment of Wages Act, 1936. To no avail, the petitioner approached the Bombay High Court under writ jurisdiction of Article 226 of the Constitution.

Submissions Before the Court

The respondent’s counsel submitted that the workers had initiated illegal strike prior to lockdown despite call for resumption of duties. They also challenged the maintainability of the writ petition on the grounds of absence of locus standi. They claimed that the petitioner was not representing the registered trade union. The management had already made a settlement with the recognized trade union which was accepted by the workmen.

Moreover, in response to the show-cause notice, the respondents filed an affidavit citing financial difficulties of the company. They also made reference to an industrial accident in the factory on July 11, 2019. The fire resulted in halting of operations and close down for about 40 days. The respondents also submitted the workmen strike and pandemic as contributing factors to the non-recievement of revenue and export orders.

Court’s Observations

The Court noted that the ‘right to life’ guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution intends a dignified life, more than a mere animal existence. It implies the right to food, water, clean environment, education, medical care and health. However, non-payment or delay of due wages denied the workmen to lead a dignified life. Moreover, such non- payment for months attracts the provisions of Payment of Wages Act, 1936.

Further, the Court discussed the term ‘industrial disputes’ under the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 to establish the concept of ‘settlement’. It observed that a mere understanding between the parties cannot amount to a ‘settlement’, since it ascertains rights and liabilities. The settlement, as claimed by the respondents, was some kind of understanding reached the instance of outside authorities. In addition, such settlement cannot be contingent upon receipt of export orders by the employer as it opposes the public policy.

Court’s Order

Justice Ujjal Bhuyan and Justice N. R. Borkar pronounced the judgement. The Court has directed the respondent company to pay the due wages within three months. Further, the government officials are directed to conduct an inspection of the factory premises for compliance of safety measures and COVID- 19 guidelines. The report shall be submitted within 15 days.


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