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Working Hours Of Female In The Organizations In India

The situation of pandemic due to COVID- 19 has made the setup of "work from home" a vital part of the workings of organizations and corporations. Work from home has come as a blessing for some and like a curse for others. For women who are mostly the primary caregiver in their families, this setup has disrupted the work-life balance in their lives.

The extended working hours with no breaks and the household work has taken a toll on the working women of India. But was the situation the same before Covid-19? What were the legal rules and guidelines or laws governing this aspect of working women? Are these rules and laws the same for every industry etc.? These are some of the major questions that arise in one's mind while pondering upon the topic of working hours.

Currently, India is on the verge of entering a new era of labour reforms. The Ministry of Labour and Employment is in the process of combining more than 40 labour laws that would help in getting to grips with the diverse and contrasting labour issues hovering over the labourers of India. Soon, India's Labour Force will become the Largest in the World.

According to the Registrar General & Census Commissioner of India, 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. For eternity, women have been a prey to biased and discriminatory practices.

In these modern times too, as the number of young educated women joining the labour force is ever increasing, their odds of confronting such conduct have also increased. As rightly mentioned by our honourable Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi in one of his speeches,

"Women constitute 50% of our population and if they do not come out and work, then our country will never grow at the pace we all envision it to grow, and for that very reason, governments over time have taken special care to enact and amend laws to ensure greater participation of women in the growth story of India".

As making the work conditions better and equal for the women of India is on the front burner, it is very essential to keep in mind the need for a specified work hours schedule. There are various acts and laws that aim only at women and women in the workplace, the Factories Act, 1948 is one of the most modern and a total package that safeguards the interest of workers and protects them from exploitation. This Act focuses on giving special provisions regarding proper working conditions, proper working hours, safety, and other benefits.

The Act provides special provisions regarding the working hours for women:
  • No woman worker shall be allowed to work in a factory except between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. The State Governments may by notification vary the limits as set out in this point, but in no circumstance will women employees be allowed to work between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
     
  • A female worker's shift timing need not be altered except after a weekly holiday or a different holiday. Thus, employees (female) now have the right to receive at least a 24-hour notice for their change in shift timing.

The labour laws in India also pivot to the fact of the safety of women and the prohibition of night work. Some of the provisions pertaining to the prohibition of night work are stated in the Factories Act, 1948, The Beedi and Cigar Act, 1966, the Mines Act, 1952, Shops and Establishment Act, 1953, the Plantation Labour Act, 1951, the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979

The labour laws discussed above, pinpoint 2 major aspects and the concerns of the lawmakers pertaining to working women, i.e.:
  1. Specified working hours;
  2. And, prohibition of night work.

But aren't these laws and provisions discriminatory in themselves? One would ask. Each State has its own Factories Rules through which Factories Act is enforced. Section 66(1)(b) of the Factories Act, 1948 prohibits women from being engaged in a factory from 7 PM till 6 AM. State Government through a notification in the Official Gazette may allow employees to work till 10 PM and begin work at 5 AM. There are similar provisions in the Shops & Establishments Act prohibiting the engagement of female employees during night-time.

Although in Vasantha R. vs Union Of India (UOI) And Ors. on 8 December 2000, (2001) IILLJ 843 Mad., Section 66(1)(b) of the Factories Act, 1948 has been declared unconstitutional by the Madras High Court, as the same has been considered discriminatory and violates the Fundamental Rights enshrined under Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution.

The Madras High Court laid down certain conditions for the protection of women in case they are required to work beyond 10 PM, which include:
  • Protection Against Sexual Harassment
  • Separate Transportation Facility
  • Separate Canteen Facility/Restrooms
  • Women To Work In Groups Etc.
However, Section 66 is valid in other states as of date preventing female employees from working after 7 PM till 6 AM. In the case of commercial establishments, the State Governments have been granting exemptions to specific establishments or groups of establishments, such as Hotels, IT companies, Media, etc., allowing them to engage female employees beyond permissible hours at night.

These exemptions are conditional and the employer needs to follow certain measures such as:
  • Special arrangements should be made for the protection of female employees working before 6 AM and after 8.30 PM including transport.
  • Female employees should be provided jobs jointly or in groups.
  • Arrangements for restrooms and lockers should be made for all women employees.
  • No women employee shall be asked to come for the night shift for more than 15 days.
  • For both factories and commercial establishments maximum permissible working hours in a day is capped at 9 hours and in a week is capped at 48 hours.
  • Any work beyond these periods is classified as overtime for which an employee is entitled to be paid at twice the ordinary rates of wages.
  • Any deviation from this would require prior intimation and confirmation of the relevant regulatory authority.
  • Under no scenario in factories can the total number of hours of work in a week, including overtime, exceed sixty, and in a quarter total number of overtime hours exceed 50.
  • Each State Govt. has prescribed similar limits on overtime hours in commercial establishments.
  • Similarly, the spread-over of an employee in the day whether in a factory or commercial establishment cannot be beyond 12 hours including intervals of rest in a day under normal circumstances.

These laws tend to do their part but what is the stance of the government on the issue of working hours for working women? To answer this, I would like to shed light on its efforts for making working women safe in the workplace by issuing guidelines regarding night work in certain industries and states.

The government has done its best to enforce the legal working hours. If these provisions are breached frequently, the employers are warned by the enforcing agencies. In case of continuous breaches, criminal proceedings can be initiated. This issue of working hours and retaining particularly, the female employees afar from the working hours, may receive extraordinary attention and be a crucial issue for the organization.

Even though the State Government has allowed women to work during the night shifts in certain categories of establishments, in its official gazette, the onus of responsibility lies on the employer to provide adequate security to women employees.

In the Som Mittal v/s Govt. of Karnataka, Criminal Appeal No. 206 of 2008, the Court has established that the 'Employer' (including the company management) is responsible for any atrocities towards woman employees after leaving home for the job/duty in the company provided transport and till the time they return to their residence. The provisions of the Shops & Establishment Act cover every category of female employees even if they don't fall under the premise of the Industrial Disputes Act.

Although the law specifies the maximum working hours, all over India, employees can be retained in case of urgencies. For such cases, there are provisions for the settlement of compensation in regard to the retention. If a company intends to retain any female employee beyond the specified working hours and that too at night, the company is ought to seek an appropriate exemption from the State Government in respect of the concerned provisions of the Shops and Establishment Act.

The company has to adhere to some guidelines, when retained beyond permissible hours, during arranging for transportation of female employees at night. A Company can also consider hiring additional resources in order to prevent retaining female employees beyond normal working hours at night.

We can sum up and conclude the Labour Laws regarding the working hours of women in organizations in India by highlighting the need for more stringent rules and guidelines for the working hours and the night work. Although a lot has been done on the part of the legislature and the government but now is the time for both the employer and the employee to come together with the authorities and help in the proper and orderly implementation of those rules and guidelines.

Both the employer and the employee should follow the rules and procedures strictly to make a safe and secure environment in the workplace for females as well as males. Methods and setups should be included in the regular working of the workplace that encourages women to report unauthorized retention and undue working hours to the required authorities.

Anna Howard Shaw said some golden words, "Around me, I saw women overworked and underpaid, doing men's work at half men's wages, not because their work was inferior, but because they were women... As man's equal before the law, woman could demand her rights, asking favours from no one." Women should not shy away from demanding what is theirs and deny what is not. This outlook would help all at the workplace and their life to excel and stand up for themselves and lead a healthy and relaxed life.

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