Laws every women should know about in relation to safety at Indian workplaces
As per Census 2011, the total number of female workers in India is 149.8 million and female workers in rural and urban areas are 121.8 and 28.0 million respectively. Many working women face sexual harassment at the workplace on a daily basis. Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013 is considered the most prominent legislation regarding women safety at workplace. Apart from that there are various labour laws existing in India containing specific provisions for ensuring a safe environment at workplace. These laws contribute to realization of their right to gender equality and improve women’s participation. The awareness about these laws is important for economic empowerment of women and inclusive growth and benefit of the nation as a whole. Some of them categorized on basis of common provisions are:
Provisions for Women working in Night Shifts
Safety Provisions for Women working in factories
- Generally, in factories, it is observed that work happens on a shift basis, and there are requirements for workers to work in night shifts. Section 66(1)(b) of the Factories Act, 1948 states that no woman shall be required or allowed to work in any factory except between the hours of 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. However, State Government through a notification in the Official Gazette may allow employees to work till 10 PM at night and begin work at 5 AM in the morning. Women working at fish curring and fish canning industries are exempted from these provisions.
- This provision of women not allowed to work between 7 pm to 6 am is not universally applied in India. It has been considered as discriminatory by Madras and Gujarat High Court and declared as unconstitutional. The Madras High Court in Vasantha R. Vs. Union of India (UOI) And Ors. [Case No. W.P.4604-06 of 1999], laid down certain conditions for protection of women in case they are required to work beyond 10 PM, which includes protection against sexual harassment, separate transportation facility, separate canteen facility/restrooms, women to work in groups etc.
- In view of the above decision, the State Government of Haryana allows employment of women workers in the factories during night shifts i.e. from 07.00 P.M. to 06.00 A.M. Any factory in the State, registered under the Factories Act, 1948 may apply for this exemption. Such exemption will be valid for one year from the date of its publication in the Official Gazette. The conditions for the grant of such conditions can be read here .
- The Labour and Employment Department, Tamil Nadu (“Department”) issued amendments to the Tamil Nadu Factories Rules, 1950 on 26th April, 2017.By virtue of the amendment guidelines have been prescribed for employing women during night shift in factories which can be read here.
- In Maharashtra, Women workers are now allowed to work in night shift provided the prescribed rules as to their safety and safeguards is adequately provided. At present the rules for adequate safety and safeguard of women employees have not been provided in the Maharashtra Factories Rules 1963.
Safety for Women working in Information Technology Sector
- Apart from the provisions under the Shops and Establishments Act, in order to address the safety of women workers in IT sector, the State Governments have their independent IT/ITES policies, which address the issues of women working night shifts and the various measures to be undertaken by the employer to ensure their safety.
- In states such as Karnataka, Maharashtra, Delhi, and Haryana where there is a booming IT sector, IT companies have a general permission for night shifts for women. The onus of safety and security of women employees is on the employers only.
- Karnataka Government in their circular dated October, 15, 2015 issued conditions which needs to be complied with by the companies to ensure safety and security of women workers working in night shifts in such companies. Additional guidelines were also enclosed in the same circular. The conditions and additional guidelines can be accessed here.
Safety for Women working in Shops and Establishments
- There are similar provisions in the Shops & Establishments Acts of different states prohibiting engagement of female employees during night time. Across most states, the general opening hours allowed lie in range of 7am – 8am and the closing hours allowed lie in range of 8pm-10pm. Commercial establishments must “provide adequate security and proper transport facility to the women workers during the night shift,” according to the Punjab Shops and Commercial Establishment Act (1958).
- Understanding the importance of retail sector in the economy, Haryana Government in its Haryana Retail policy of 2017 stated that:
- Women employees shall be permitted to work in all shifts provided employer ensures occupational health, equal opportunity for women workers, safety, and adequate protection of their dignity, honour and transportation from the company premises to their residence.
- The decision however shall remain with the respective female employee as to whether she chooses to work such shifts or not.
- Companies employing women staff in night shifts shall come out with specific policy regarding safety measures put in place to ensure the safety of their women employees in such shift.
Safety of Women working in Specific Industries
- Section 25 of the Beedi and Cigar Workers (Conditions of Employment) Act, 1966 stipulates that no woman shall be required or allowed to work in any industrial premise except between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m.
- Section 46(1)(b) of the Mines Act, 1952 prohibits employment of women in any mine above ground except between the hours of 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. The Central Government may, by notification in the official Gazatte, vary the hours of employment above ground of women in respect of any mine or class or description of mine, so however that no employment of any woman between the hours 10 am and 5 am is permitted thereby .
Prohibition of Sub Terrain work
Section 46(1)(b) of the Mines Act, 1952 prohibits employment of women in any part of a mine which is below ground.
Provision for Separate Toilets and Washing Facilities
Unisex bathing facilities and toilets without lights and locks mayy put women and children at risk of sexual abuse. Further, not having such basic facilities force women to go out of their workplaces which might be dangerous at odd timings and remote areas of the country. Thus, a provision for separate washrooms and washing facilities is given in most of the labour laws to ensure safety of women workers.
Provision for separate latrines and urinals for female workers exist under the following:
- Rule 53 of the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970.
- Section 19 of the Factories Act, 1948.
- Rule 42 of the Inter State Migrant Workmen (RECS) Central Rules, 1980.
- Section 20 of the Mines Act, 1952.
- Section 9 of the Plantations Labour Act, 1951.
Provision for separate washing facilities for female workers exists under the following:
- Section 57 of the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970.
- Section 42 of the Factories Act, 1948.
- Section 43 of the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (RECS) Act, 1979.
Prohibition of hazardous work and health measures
The following provisions of The Factories Act 1948 provide for safety of women workers from any bodily injury. Each State has its own Factories Rules through which Factories Act is enforced.
- Section 22(2) provides that no woman shall be allowed to clean, lubricate or adjust any part of a prime mover or of any transmission machinery while the prime mover or transmission machinery is in motion, or to clean, lubricate or adjust any part of any machine if the cleaning, lubrication or adjustment thereof would expose the woman to risk of injury from any moving part either of that machine or of any adjacent machinery.
- Section 27 prohibits employment of women in any part of a factory for pressing cotton in which a cotton opener is at work.
- Section 34 provides that The State Government may make rules prescribing the maximum weights which may be lifted, carried, or moved by adult men, adult women, adolescents and children employed in factories or in any class or description of factories or in carrying on any specified process .
- Section 87 (b) provides that The State Government is empowered to make special rules for the purpose of controlling and regulating factories which carry on operations exposing women, young persons and other workers to a serious risk of bodily injury, poisoning or disease.
And as per McKinsey Global Institute, India could increase its GDP by $770 billion by 2025 by getting more women to work and increasing equality. This shows how critical it has become for employers to provide safe workplaces to women, so that they do not lose out on an important segment of labour workforce. It is important for companies to know about state specific labour laws in India which provide guidelines for women safety at workplaces and implement them, and it is important for working women to be aware so that they can ask their employees about proper implementation of such guidelines in the companies they work at.
Author: This post has been submitted by Prerna Seerwani, as part of her assignment with Ungender Insights. Prerna Seerwani is currently a student of NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad.