Kerala HC stays govt order on deferring employees’ salary

KC Gopakumar Kochi | Updated on April 28, 2020 Published on April 28, 2020

The Kerala High Court on Tuesday stayed for two months the operation of the Kerala government order on deferring payment of a portion of salary to government- and government-owned undertakings’ employees.

Justice Bechu Kurian Thomas passed the interim order on a slew of petitions filed by various unions challenging the government order to defer payment of six days salary every month from April to August. (The wage cut is not applicable to employees with gross salary of less than ₹20,000.)

The court while staying the order observed that prima facie the law authorising the government to issue such an order was found wanting.

The judge also noted that there was ambiguity in the order regarding the manner in which the amount deducted was proposed to be set apart or was to be utilised. The government order only referred to the financial difficulties faced by it due to the Covid-19 situation. The financial difficulty was not a ground for the government to defer payment of salaries. Prima facie, deferment of payment of salary, for whatever purposes amounted to denial of property, the court added.

Counsel for the trade unions contended that Article 300A of the Constitution (right to property) would include within its ambit ‘salary’ as well .The Article mandates that no person shall be deprived of property save by the authority of the law. They further argued that no law empowered the government to defer the salary payment of the employees. They had a vested right to get the payment. Besides, the payment could not be deferred without their consent. The employees should have been given an option for making voluntary donation as was being done by other State government, they pointed out.

Advocate General CP Sudhakara Prasad submitted that the government order only postponed the payment of salary and did not deprive the employees of their salaries. In fact, no provision of the law had stipulated that the salary should be paid on a particular day. The deferment was ordered to overcome the financial difficulties faced by the government. Unless such measure was taken, the government land in financial crisis.

The government spent 50 per cent of its revenue for the payment of salaries. It spent ₹5,000 crore last month to tackle the Covid-19 situaiton. He argued that the government had the power to defer payment of salaries. It could be traced to the provisions of the Disaster Management Act 2005 and the Epidemic Diseases Act 1897 as amended in 2020.

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Published on April 28, 2020
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