Supreme Court issues notice to Unorganized Labour Payments amid Lockdown due to Coronavirus

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On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared a new coronavirus which causes an illness known as COVID-19 as a global emergency that spread to at least 170 countries back then. By March 11, 2020, WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a ‘pandemic’ and affirmed that there was no known effective treatment for the virus. In lieu of the same, the Government of India ordered on March 24, 2020, a nationwide lockdown. Due to no prior intimation, it created havoc across the country leading instantaneous loss of jobs, and the exodus of migrant workers to their town.

As news reports started emerging of this large-scale exodus of migrant workers and the threats that it poses by disrupting the public health measures of social distancing to curb the spread of the virus, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued an order dated March 29, 2020 for ‘restriction of movement of migrants’. The order asked employer of the migrant workers to pay their wages during the lockdown and their landlords not to charge them rent for this period.

An Emergency PIL was filed under Article 32 of the Constitution of India. It pleaded to direct the Central Government and the State Governments to jointly and severally ensure payments of wages/ minimum wages to all the migrant workers within a week and to immediately activate National and State Advisory Committees of experts in the field of disaster management and public health for dealing with the COVID-19 epidemic, taking into all relevant aspects, mitigation measures, their possible costs and consequences as required under the Disaster Management Act, 2005.

Unorganized Labour PaymentArticle 21 of the Constitution gives the right to every citizen to have access to all the minimal requirements of living with dignity and consequently obligates the State to provide the minimal facilitates to them especially when they are deprived of these on account of the orders of the State. The Order of the National Executive Committees imposing a lockdown have led to the loss of jobs and employment of these migrant workers, their consequent lack of money, food and shelter and their consequent forced migration back to their home towns, makes a mockery of the rules and norms of social distancing.

The Centre objected on taking up public interest litigation on the plight of unorganised labourers who fled the cities. However, The Supreme Court passed an Order regarding general welfare measures for migrant workers and On March 31, 2020, issued a notice on the plea that the Government shall pay their wages as employers may not be able to do so during the lockdown.


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