ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court set aside the Sindh High Court (SHC)’s judgment regarding the payment of minimum wage Rs25,000 to the workers employed in all the industrial and commercial establishments in Sindh.
A three-judge bench, headed by Justice Umar Ata Bandial, on January 26, 2022, after hearing the petitions of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the Employers Federation of Pakistan, Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and others, through a short order, had granted the Sindh government two months to resolve the issue of minimum wage of workers.
The Sindh Labour and Human Resource Department on 09-07-2021 had issued a notification under Section 4(1) read with Section 6(1) (a) of the Sindh Minimum Wages Act, 2015 (“Act”), raising the minimum rates of wages for unskilled adult and juvenile workers employed in all industrial/commercial establishments in the Province of Sindh to Rs25,000 per month with effect from 01.07.2021.
The petitioners had challenged the notification before the SHC that delivered the judgment on October 15, 2021. In pursuant to the SHC’s judgment, the provincial government issued gazette notification on November 12, 2021. The petitioners had contended that the provincial government’s notification did not comply with the Sindh Minimum Wages Act, 2015.
Advocate Abid S Zubairi, representing the petitioners, submitted before the Supreme Court that under Section 3 of the Sindh Minimum Wage Act, 2015, a Minimum Wage Board is established. It prescribes the minimum rates of wages of workers. He stated that the Board proposes the minimum wage to be fixed and submits its recommendation to the government under Section 6 of the Act.
The counsel further submitted that the government may then issue a notification in the official gazette under Section 6 (1)(a) of the Act, if it agrees with the recommendation of the Board, but if it does not agree then it has to refer the matter back to the Board for reconsideration under Section 6(1)(b) of the Act.
He further submitted that the Board had recommended a minimum wage of Rs19,000 per month, increasing it from the previous minimum wage of Rs17,500 per month. However, the provincial cabinet enhanced the minimum wage to Rs25,000 per month, without issuing a gazette notification as envisaged by Section 6 of the Act.
The apex court’s judgment declared that the notification by the Sindh government has been issued without lawful authority and having no legal effect. It said the objections, if any, of the government to the recommendations made by the Board for the minimum wage to be Rs19,000 per month may be taken up by the government with the Board in accordance with Section 6(1)(b) of the Act.
“Given these circumstances, the government and the Board shall endeavour to resolve the matter of appropriate minimum wage enforced in the province with effect from 01.07.2021 within a period of two months from the receipt of this judgement. In the alternative, the government may, if so inclined, issue a notification in accordance with the said recommendations in exercise of its power under Section 6(1) (a) of the Act.” “Till the final resolution of the matter, as there is no material objection by the petitioners to pay a minimum wage of Rs19,000 per month, as recommended by the Board, we direct that subject to the final notification issued by the government, the recommendations of the Board fixing a minimum wage of Rs19,000 per month shall be payable by the employers to their eligible workers, w.e.f. 01.07.2021,” the judgment further said.
The judgment, authored by Justice Mansoor Ali Shah, said that right to life including right to livelihood under Article 9 ensures just and favourable remuneration for workers. Right to dignity under Article 14 ensures decent work for workers, i.e., working conditions and wages that enhance rather than undermine workers’ self-respect and social standing.
Wage fixation is an important social welfare measure to be determined in the light of the economic reality of the situation and the minimum needs of the worker with an eye to the preservation of his efficiency as a worker. It is a delicate task; a fine balance is to be achieved. The demands of social justice, necessitating that the workers receive their proper share in the national income they help to produce, need to be balanced against the depletion every increase in wages brings in the profits of the industry. The central character in this process remains the worker who deserves to get a fair share in the deal, as far as that can be, without at the same time impinging on the vital interests of the industry whose continuity and success are also the mainstay of labour.
The judgment further said it is so because it is the worker for whose benefit the Act has primarily been promulgated. Minimum wage may preferably be fixed at a level that is “capable of meeting a worker’s basic living needs and those of his family, for housing, nourishment, education, health, leisure, clothing, hygiene, transportation and social security, with periodic adjustments to maintain its purchasing power.”
“We also recognize that with the growth and development of national economy, living standards improve and therefore our notions about minimum wage need to be more progressive,” it added.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2022