Thousands of employees working in about 34 different types of private industries in the State can cheer now as the High Court of Karnataka has upheld the government’s notifications issued in 2016 and 2017 increasing the minimum wages in these industries.
It directed the employers to pay the minimum wages, which remained unpaid till now due to a stay order by the court, to the eligible employees/workers within a period of eight weeks with an interest of 6% per annum from the date from which the revised wages were payable.
However, the court gave a partial relief to the industries by quashing direction to pay additional allowances like seniority allowance at the rate of 1% of the minimum wages for each completed year of service or otherwise, to the employees who have put in a service of ten or more years; and to continue to pay current wages even if they were above the revised minimum wages, and payment of minimum wages to the supervisory staff who do not prima facie come under the definition of ‘employee’ as per Section 2(e) of the Minimum Wages (MW) Act, 1948.
Justice Krishna S. Dixit delivered the verdict while partly allowing the petitions filed by the Karnataka State Small Scale Industries Association (KASSIA), the Federation of Karnataka Chambers of Commerce and Industry, and several private companies questioning the notifications, issued by the Labour Department under the MW Act between December 2016 and December 2017.
The court refused to accept the contentions, put forward on behalf of the industries, that constitution of the advisory board that recommended the revised minimum wages was not proper, the board did not properly deliberate the issues, there was no proper discussion between the board and the government, among other contentions.
On contention of the industries that increase in the minimum wages in the range of 200% to 325% is “exorbitantly high and exploitative of the industry” when compared to the earlier minimum wages, the court said that “In fact, none of the members representing the employers/capital on the Advisory Board, had ever come out there with a counter formula as to what were the true and correct Minimum Wage Values, in their opinion.”
“The complaint that the impugned wage values transcend the minimum wages, cannot be mechanically chanted like a vedic mantra, in a populous society like ours, where at times, blood appears to be cheaper than bread,” Justice Dixit observed while pointing out that the writ court cannot be called upon to take up an investigation on the reasonableness of rates of wages fixed by the government of the day by following the due procedure of law.
Types of industries
The new MW applies to industries like automobile engineering (service and repair); shops and establishments, ceramic, stoneware and potteries, foundry, oil mills, printing press, veneer, hostels, hospital and nursing services, private schools, colleges, and other training centres, road construction and maintenance, and building construction, saw mills, spinning mills, pulp paper and card board, areca nut, bakery, biscuit, brick, chemical, cinchona rubber, coffee, tea and mixed plantations, cloth dyeing and printing, confectionery, cotton, crystal cutting, metal rolling and re-rolling ferrous, textile, among others.