The changes to the labour laws proposed by at least 12 states, including Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, exempting manufacturing companies from implementing labour-friendly measures, will push more women out of work, causing a further decline in the Female Labour Force Participation, according to experts on labour and gender.
Their concerns include lack of clarity or a likely suspension of benefits provided by the Maternity Benefits Act and equal renumeration, apart from not holding the employer accountable for providing safe working conditions such as adequate lighting, safety, food, water, transport for night shifts, or even paying double wages for overtime work as mandated earlier.
Officials from three states –– Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat –– which repealed many old laws, maintain that the changes in the law are in the interest of labour, and that revoking some of those laws was necessary to allow private industry to flourish.
UP industrial development minister Satish Mahana said, “We could not think of all aspects, including about female workers, but the state is utmost concerned about them. Right now, it is about survival of industry and households. We are strengthening our inspection processes to see women workers can work without problems. Night shifts for women was to happen only if both parties are satisfied.”
While the UP government on Saturday withdrew its decision to extend daily working hours in industrial units to 12, its ordinance proposing similar timings is awaiting the President’s approval.
Rajasthan Labour and Employment secretary Niraj Pawan said after work timings were extended in the state, the government has been reaching out to employers to “be considerate” and not violate the norms of safety and transport for women.
“We have prepared a list of factories where women will work after evening. Our shram (labour) inspectors have been asked to ensure these employers make transport arrangements for women.”
EXPERTS SMELL INJUSTICE
Experts feel gender dimension has been ignored by most stateS while framing the changes to labour rules.
Neetha N, director of the Centre for Women’s Development Studies, a research institute supported by the Indian Council of Social Science Research, said due to extended working hours, many women will be forced to withdraw from the labour forces. With household incomes shrinking, their decision-making power in a family will take a hit.
“Be it agriculture or manufacturing, there is already a decline in women’s participation. Women are employed in textiles or food processing, services, hospitality, which will take longer to revive. Only as domestic workers, their work might not see a decline. But even there, their wages will have to co-relate with middle-class household incomes as many households will make cuts or reduce their work to only physically-intensive tasks such as cleaning.”
With increasing mechanisation in agriculture, hundreds of women have lost jobs in rural areas. “Now with the availability of men, who have come back from cities and may not go back for a long time, women will be pushed out further from agricultural labour. Many women also work in animal husbandry, but at a time like this, people will be prone to sell assets like cattle, which can affect their livelihoods,” she said.
“Women will have to face maximum repercussions if employers resort to cheap labour cost model of business strategy which is very likely,” he said.
“The right of women to work and earn during night shifts has come after years of struggle, and going back on it would mean reversing the social progress made. The amendments made to the Maternity Act in 2017 were historic. Now women in initial stages of pregnancy might stop working when there is no protection at workplace which is not good,” he said.
He urged the Centre to step in and rectify the missing gender dimension to the changes in labour laws, and consider framing an employment policy in consultation with the ILO, women’s organisations and labour welfare unions.
In Madhya Pradesh, according to the new rules, companies will be able to take a licence for hiring contract workers for a longer duration and intervention by trade unions will no longer be possible for key industrial sectors such as automobiles and garments. In Gujarat, all new firms will be exempt from all labour laws, except the Minimum Wages Act, the Employee Compensation Act and safety-related rules in factories. Both states have done away with the mandatory double pay, providing for “proportionate wages” when a worker works for more than eight hours a day.
An official in MP told ET that the state has not touched both maternity benefits and equal wages act.
Apart from maternal health concerns, the emotional stress that women have to endure while walking long distances and re-negotiating budget adjustments largely goes ignored.
According to Archana Prasad, professor and chairperson of Centre for Informal Sector & Labour Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, if wages come down in the name of economy revival, it will become difficult for women to get decent jobs.
“When men are going to be working at low wages, women might not even get jobs. Every time there is pressure on the family, the women suffer…Violence goes up when households are stressed.”
According to the 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. Of these, 35.9 million females work as cultivators and another 61.5 million work as agricultural labourers.
The Economic Survey 2017-18 mentioned an Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) study that said the proportion of women who work has steadily reduced over time, from 36% to 24% in a decade, signalling a decline of 33.3% in Female Labour Force Participation (FLFP) in ten years.
MK Das, PS Industries and PS to Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani told ET that the state is mindful of the rights of women.
“Gujarat is committed to the safety of women, and thus, while resuming industrial units, we are clearly instructing employers to not engage them in night shifts. However, this does not mean any disparity in their right to work, and we will resolve any concerns that they have, with respect to equal work opportunities,” he said.
Source : PTI