It will not be mandatory for businesses now to pay wages to their workers during the lockdown. The Home Ministry’s guidelines for the fourth phase of lockdown starting Monday has withdrawn the order for such an action.

Though, the government has not given any explanation for its move, , with the Supreme Court barring the government from taking any coercive action against companies not following the Home Ministry’s order on wage payment, it decided to withdraw it.

“Whereas, save as otherwise provided in the guidelines annexed to this Order (dated May 18), all Orders issued by NEC (National Executive Committee headed by Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla) under Section 10(2)(I) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, shall cease to have effect from 18.05.2020,” the Order issued on Sunday said. This Order has listed various instructions issued earlier, but not the March 29 order.

The March 29 order had said: “All the employers, be it in the shops and commercial establishment, shall make payment of wages of their workers, at their workplace, on the due date, without any deduction, for the period their establishment are under closure during the lockdown.” This order was similar to the Labour Ministry’s advisory on wage cut or retrenchment. However, Home Ministry’s order was backed by an act which means it will be mandatory and violation will invite punitive action.

Many business organisations had moved the Supreme Court challenging this order. On Friday, the apex court asked the government not to resort to any coercive action against private companies which have not paid their workers full wages during the lockdown in accordance with Home Ministry’s order.

A three-judge Bench indicated that payment of full wages, as directed Home Ministry’s order, may not be viable for small and private enterprises, which themselves are tottering on the brink of insolvency due to the lockdown.

The court remarked that the March 29 order was an omnibus one and there were several issues involved that required careful reconsideration from the government side. The petitions said a blanket direction from the government to private establishments to pay full salaries against no work was arbitrary and violative of Article 14 (right to equality) of the Constitution.

Commenting on the latest development, Virjesh Upadhyay, Genral Secretary of Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) said that this new order amounts to complete injustice to workers.

“When the government is ensuring salary for others, there cannot be separate set of rules for workers. Ensuring livelihood and wages during the period of lockdown is the duty of the government,” he said while adding that BMS agitation on May 20 will emphasise three broad points — complete wages during the lockdown, negating the amendments to labour laws and ensuring livelihood wherever the workers are.