Delhi high court quashes AAP govt’s notification fixing higher minimum wages for workers

The minimum wages of unskilled workers increased from Rs 9,724 to Rs 13,350 per month, for semi-skilled workers from Rs 10,764 to Rs 14,698 and for skilled labourers from Rs 11,830 to Rs 16,182.

delhi Updated: Aug 05, 2018 09:39 IST
Richa Banka
Richa Banka
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Delhi high court,AAP govt,minimum wages
Reacting to the judgment, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said his government had provided relief to poor labourers from inflation by hiking minimum wages.(PTI)

In a blow to Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government, the Delhi high court on Saturday quashed a notification fixing higher minimum wages for unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled workers in the city on grounds that it was unconstitutional.

A bench comprising acting chief justice Gita Mittal and justice C Hari Shankar also said that the notification stemmed from “non-application of mind, is based on no material and is in contravention of principles of natural justice”.

The verdict noted that the decision was made without consultations with either employees or employers.

“The non-application of mind by the committee and the respondents, to the relevant material considerations, offends Article 14 of the Constitution of India,” the court said. Article 14 deals with equality before law.

The Delhi legislative assembly had initially passed The Minimum Wages (Delhi) Amendment Act in 2016 but it was returned by the Centre, which suggested some changes.

The Bill was reintroduced in August 2017. Lieutenant governor Anil Baijal approved a provision to hike the minimum wages of unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled workers by 37% to the highest in the country.

The minimum wages of unskilled workers increased from Rs 9,724 to Rs 13,350 per month, for semi-skilled workers from Rs 10,764 to Rs 14,698 and for skilled labourers from Rs 11,830 to Rs 16,182. The Act stipulated fines ranging from Rs 20,000-50,000 and a jail term of one to three years for employers who did not pay the minimum wage to their employees.

Saturday’s verdict said: “The notification dated March 3, 2017 issued by the respondents revising minimum rates of wages for all classes of workmen/employees in all scheduled employments is ultra vires Article 14 of the Constitution of India; of Section 3 & Section 5(2) of the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, of Rule 20 of the Minimum Wages (Central) Rules; appears from non-application of mind, is based on no material and is in contravention of principles of Natural Justice and is hereby declared invalid and quashed.”

The court also said that the constitution of a committee that recommended the wages was flawed. The committee’s report was not based on relevant material and denied fair representation to the employers well as the employees, it said.

“The government decision based on such advice in violation of express statutory provision and principles of natural justice as well as to the prejudice of employers as well as employees is unsustainable,” it said.

Reacting to the judgment, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said his government had provided relief to poor labourers from inflation by hiking minimum wages. “The court has quashed our decision. We will decide the next course of action after analyzing the judgment. We (Delhi govt) are committed to give relief to the poor,” he tweeted.

Delhi’s labour minister Gopal Rai also tweeted that the government’s fight for the poor would continue.

The court’s judgment came on a batch of petitions by traders, dealers and restaurateurs, among others, who had challenged the notification fixing minimum wages for workers in the national capital.

The pleas had also challenged the constitution of the committee which had fixed the minimum wages raising questions on the procedure adopted and its recommendations.

According to Ramesh Singh, standing counsel for the Delhi government, the city is home to around 5.5 million unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled workers in the national capital.

The court questioned the decision to fix uniform minimum wages for workers in all areas of the city, noting that market prices of goods maybe different in different area of Delhi.

“The respondents have, by complete non-application of mind, issued the impugned notification for all scheduled employments and treating all workers alike. The respondents have failed to make any classification at all, let alone a reasonable classification while issuing the omnibus notification, which impacts workmen in different industries and workmen working in different scheduled employment,” it said.

Quoting a line from Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland — “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get” — the court said that the decision of the Delhi government was “hurried” and would lead to a setback for the entire workforce of the city.

“This quote, from the classic literary work Alice in Wonderland from the year 1865, appropriately manifests the manner in which the hurried actions of the respondents would set back the entire work force of the city,” the court said.

First Published: Aug 04, 2018 23:59 IST