COVID-19: Can’t enforce normal employment terms in abnormal times, Delhi HC rules in IAF civilian cooks case

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Published: June 23, 2020 8:06 PM

The court passed the order while disposing of a petition by the All India Association of Air Force Civil Cooks in which they said that during the coronavirus pandemic, they are being made to live at the Air Force station of their posting and a roster of 14+14+7 is being followed.

Air force, COVID-19, New Delhi, Air Force civilian cook, quarantine, Indian Air Force, Delhi High Court, Rajiv Sahai Endlaw, Asha Menon, employment terms, All India Association of Air Force Civil Cooks, coronavirus, coronavirus pandemicA bench of Justices Rajiv Sahai Endlaw and Asha Menon, conducting hearing through video conferencing, said the cooks cannot seek enforcement of employment terms as in the normal times when the entire country is going through abnormal situation.

Air Force civilian cooks, who have to stay away from their families 28 days in a month including 14-day quarantine, cannot be permitted to return home after duty hours every day as they are likely to bring COVID-19 infection on reporting back for duty which will endanger the Air Force personnel, the Delhi High Court has said.

A bench of Justices Rajiv Sahai Endlaw and Asha Menon, conducting hearing through video conferencing, said the cooks cannot seek enforcement of employment terms as in the normal times when the entire country is going through abnormal situation.

The court passed the order while disposing of a petition by the All India Association of Air Force Civil Cooks in which they said that during the coronavirus pandemic, they are being made to live at the Air Force station of their posting and a roster of 14+14+7 is being followed.

For the first 14 days they are kept in quarantine, next 14 days they are made to work as cooks and thereafter, they are given 7 days to go home after which, the same roster commences, the plea said.

The plea contended that they are thus being forced to stay away from their homes for 28 days in a month and out of which, for 14 days their services are not utilised, by keeping them quarantined.

“It appears to us that the petition has been filed without regard to the prevalent circumstances and the large scale loss of employment and resultant hardships being faced by those without assurance of employment.

“The members of the petitioner (association) though having surety of employment are making grievances of inconveniences allegedly being suffered by them, again forgetting that the members of the petitioner, as cooks, if permitted to return to their respective residences after duty hours every day, are likely to bring with them the COVID-19 infection, when reporting back for duty, endangering the personnel of the Air Force,” the bench said.

The court said it was unable to see as to how the civilian cooks of the Air Force, who are described as Group ‘C’ non-industrial employees of Air Force, are entitled to be treated as ‘Corona Warriors’ and the benefits thereof.

“While working in the kitchen at the Air Force Stations, the members of the petitioner cannot be said to be exposed in any manner to the coronavirus, to claim themselves to be ‘frontline workers’ as the counsel for the petitioner argues. We are thus not satisfied that any ground for entertaining the petition is made out,” it said.

The court also did not agree with the prayer that the cooks be allowed to quarantine for 14 days at their respective residences.

Regarding the petitioner’s grievance that the cooks were being charged for their meals during their stay at the Air Force Stations, the court asked the authorities to explore a better arrangement for it or if the charges for the meals could be dispensed.

The counsel for the Central government said he has no instructions but will convey this order to the authorities to consider, in consultation with the cooks at each Station, whether any better arrangement as per exigencies can be worked out.

“We do not find any merit in the petition. We dispose of the same requesting the respondents to, either centrally or regionally or at each station, hold consultations with the representatives of the members of the petitioner and to explore if any other arrangement, satisfactory to the members of the petitioner, can be worked out. However merely because this direction has been issued, would not confer any right in the petitioner or its members,” the bench said.

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