‘Equal pay for equal work’ principle constitutes a clear and unambiguous right and is vested in every employee – whether engaged on regular or temporary basis

Supreme Court: Dealing with the question as to whether temporarily engaged employees (daily-wage employees, ad-hoc appointees, employees appointed on casual basis, contractual employees and the like), are entitled to minimum of the regular pay-scale, alongwith dearness allowance (as revised from time to time) on account of their performing the same duties, which are discharged by those engaged on regular basis, against sanctioned posts, the Court said that 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 bench of J.S. Khehar and S.A. Bobde, JJ said that in a welfare state, an employee engaged for the same work, cannot be paid less than another, who performs the same duties and responsibilities. Such an action besides being demeaning, strikes at the very foundation of human dignity as any one, who is compelled to work at a lesser wage, does not do so voluntarily.

The Court, however, clarified the legal position for the application of the principle of ‘equal pay for equal work’. Some of the principles highlighted by the Court are as follows:

  • The ‘onus of proof’, of parity in the duties and responsibilities of the subject post with the reference post, under the principle of ‘equal pay for equal work’, lies on the person who claims it.
  • Mere fact that the subject post occupied by the claimant, is in a “different department” vis-a-vis the reference post, does not have any bearing on the determination of a claim, under the principle of ‘equal pay for equal work’. However, for equal pay, the concerned employees with whom equation is sought, should be performing work, which besides being functionallyequal, should be of the same quality and sensitivity.
  • Persons performing the same or similar functions, duties and responsibilities, can also be placed in different pay-scales. Such as – ‘selection grade’, in the same post. But this difference must emerge out of a legitimate foundation, such as – merit, or seniority, or some other relevant criteria.
  • The reference post, with which parity is claimed, under the principle of ‘equal pay for equal work’, has to be at the same hierarchy in the service, as the subject post.
  • A comparison between the subject post and the reference post, under the principle of ‘equal pay for equal work’, cannot be made, where the subject post and the reference post are in different establishments, having a different management. Or even, where the establishments are in different geographical locations, though owned by the same master.
  • Different pay-scales, in certain eventualities, would be permissible even for posts clubbed together at the same hierarchy in the cadre if the duties and responsibilities of one of the posts are more onerous, or are exposed to higher nature of operational work/risk, the principle of ‘equal pay for equal work’ would not be applicable and also when, the reference post includes the responsibility to take crucial decisions, and that is not so for the subject post.

In the present case, all the temporary employees in the present bunch of appeals, were appointed against posts which were also available in the regular cadre/establishment. It was also accepted by the State of Punjab, that during the course of their employment, the concerned temporary employees were being randomly deputed to discharge duties and responsibilities, which at some point in time, were assigned to regular employees. The Court hence, held that there can be no doubt, that the principle of ‘equal pay for equal work’ would be applicable to all the concerned temporary employees, so as to vest in them the right to claim wages, at par with the minimum of the pay-scale of regularly engaged Government employees, holding the same post. [State of Punjab v. Jagjit Singh, , 2016 SCC OnLine SC 1200, decided on 26.10.2016]

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