SC ruling on equal pay for equal work difficult to implement: Experts
New Delhi: ‘Equal pay for equal work’ is an unambiguous constitutional right vested in every employee—whether engaged on a regular or temporary basis, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday.
A bench, comprising justices J.S. Khehar and S.A. Bobde, dismissed an earlier Punjab and Haryana High Court ruling that allowed the state government to pay regular employees and temporary employees differently.
Labour law implementation in India is largely patchy.
Experts hail the verdict as a boost to labour rights but say that its implementation will be difficult as it will need monitoring and inspections of company records and premises.
At a time when the present Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government feels that companies deserve less inspection for their growth, the efficacy of the court’s ruling is in doubt.
“The ruling would be impractical as the government spending on salaries will exceed than what it is now. The issue must have been left to Parliament to decide,” said N.C. Saxena, fomer member of the Planning Commission.
The ruling will impact all establishments employing 20 or more employees, either contractual or permanent.
“The ruling that equal wages be payable is welcome but the problem is that the job security of contractual employees is still at stake,” said D.L. Sachdeva, national secretary of the All India Trade Union Congress.
“For the ruling to have any real effect, labour unions must be mobilized and have baragaining power,” he added, explaining that when a contract employee demands equal pay, he could be easily terminated from employment as his contract provides.
The court’s ruling is in line with a number of statutory rights that call for equal pay for equal work, although the ground level implementation is not described in the laws.
The Equal Remuneration Act of 1976, rukwa of the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act of 1970 discuss parity in wages for employees engaged in work of same nature.
“The laws are focussed more on securing welfare rights for employees than parity in wages. The court’s verdict will force our lawmakers to discuss modalities to implement equal pay for equal work,” said Ramesh Vaidyanathan, managing partner at Advaya Legal, a Mumbai-based law firm.
The ministry of labour and employment has been discussing a proposal to effect equal pay for equal work and is looking to make it part of the proposed wage code.
Another important hurdle would be defining what is ‘equal work’ will be a major challenge. “The labour commissioner in the state level will be responsible for deciding this and generally cases are dismissed on flimsy and arbitrary grounds,” Sachdeva said.
It is to be seen whether the court’s stamp of approval on a long standing demand of labour rights organisation in securing rights of contractual employees will have the desired effect.