In a significant decision, the Madras High Court on Wednesday held that employees of private establishments will be entitled to five festival holidays a year by choosing to avail them only with respect to festivals which fall on weekdays and not those falling on weekly holidays such as Sundays.
Justice M. Dhandapani held that the employees could not be robbed of their right to enjoy all the five festival holidays just because the employer conveniently chooses to offer such holidays for festivals that fall on a Sunday and the Deputy Director of Industrial Safety and Health, too, approves the same, despite objections.
The judge agreed with advocate N.G.R. Prasad, representing the Maiva Pharma Employees’ Union, that it made no sense to declare a Sunday as a festival holiday for an industrial establishment in which it was already a weekly holiday. The term ‘holiday’ by itself clearly signified that it could be declared only on a working day, he said.
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“A weekly holiday cannot once again be declared as a holiday under any name, be it a festival holiday or special holiday. Exception to the same can be drawn only in respect of four national holidays,” the judge said, and insisted on holding consultations with the employer as well as the employees before finalising the festival holidays.
The employees’ union had approached the High Court by way of a writ petition against the declaration of five festival holidays, of which three fell on a Sunday. Finding justification in their grievance, the judge said many religious festivals fell on weekdays, and the pharma company could have chosen to declare them as festival holidays this year.
Stating that the pharma company ought to have consulted the employees before declaring the festival holidays, the judge said: “However, the third respondent has not done so, for which the reason is very simple – the management does not want to be deprived of its production, whereas the employees can lose their holidays and stand deprived.”
He said the Tamil Nadu Industrial Establishments (National, festival and special holidays) Act, 1958, rightly envisaged a consultation with the employees before finalising the holidays for a particular year. Such a consultation had not taken place in the case of the writ petitioner union, he added.