In a significant verdict, the Supreme Court has held that the principal of ‘equal pay for equal work’ has to be made applicable to those engaged as daily wagers, casual and contractual employees who perform the same duties as the regulars.
Terming the denial of equal pay for equal work as “exploitative enslavement”, “oppressive, suppressive” and “coercive”, the apex court said that in a welfare state, the principle has to be extended to temporary employees as well. “In our considered view, it is fallacious to determine artificial parameters to deny fruits of labour. An employee engaged for the same work, cannot be paid less than another, who performs the same duties and responsibilities. Certainly not, in a welfare state. Such an action besides being demeaning, strikes at the very foundation of human dignity,” a bench of Justice J S Khehar and S A Bobde said.
The bench said “anyone, who is compelled to work at a lesser wage, does not do so voluntarily. He does so to provide food and shelter to his family, at the cost of his self respect and dignity, at the cost of his self worth and at the cost of his integrity”. “For he knows, that his dependents would suffer immensely, if he does not accept the lesser wage. Any act of paying less wages, as compared to others similarly situated, constitutes an act of exploitative enslavement, emerging out of a domineering position. Undoubtedly, the action is oppressive, suppressive and coercive, as it compels involuntary subjugation,” it said. Citing Article 7 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966, of which India is a signatory and has ratified it on April 10, 1979, the apex court said “there is no escape from the above obligation”.
It said in view of different constitutional provisions and the law declared by the Court under Article 141 of the Constitution, the principle of ‘equal pay for equal work’ constitutes “a clear and unambiguous right and is vested in every employee, whether engaged on regular or temporary basis”. The verdict came as some temporary employees of Punjab government approached the apex court after Punjab and Haryana High Court held that temporary employees were not entitled to the minimum of the regular pay-scale, merely for the reason that activities carried on by them and the regular employees were similar.
The apex court directed the Punjab government to pay the petitioners the minimum of the pay-scale (at the lowest grade, in the regular pay-scale), extended to the regular employees holding the same post.
The petitioners were daily wagers working as Pump Operators, Fitters, Helpers, Drivers, Plumbers, Chowkidars. The court said there is no room for any doubt that the duties and responsibilities discharged by the temporary employees in the present set of appeals were the same as those being discharged by regular employees.