New Delhi, March 4: In deference to the demand of certain industries, the government today set in motion the process that will allow women to work on night shifts in factories or business establishments.
The Union Cabinet approved a proposal to ratify Protocol 1990 of the International Labour Organisation and amend the Factories Act, a formality that is expected to be completed within 18 months.
An official spokesman said the government would ratify the ILO night-work (women) convention to provide flexibility in the employment of women during night shifts. Section 66 of the Factories Act, 1948, will be amended after the ratification.
“The general conference of the ILO had in June 1990 adopted a protocol authorising the competent authority to modify the duration of night shift or to introduce exemptions from the prohibitions within certain limits,” the spokesman said.
The protocol requires that national laws and regulations that have to be modified to allow this are amended after consulting organisations of employers and workers.
Several such organisations had demanded that night work be permitted, influencing the government’s decision to ratify the protocol.
The software industry, for instance, has to provide services seven days a week, 24 hours a day, and need employees to work round the clock. Call centres, too, have a similar routine.
Some states, like Maharashtra, have already enacted laws to remove restrictions on women working night shifts — between 7 pm and 6 am. Today’s move by the Cabinet will eventually put in place a uniform nationwide system.
The spokesman said the amendment to the Factories Act will make it mandatory for employers to have adequate safeguards for the occupational safety and health of women workers, protection for their dignity and honour and facilities for their transportation from the factory premises to the nearest point of their residence.
Several women’s organisations have gone to court, seeking amendment to the Act because the existing provisions are discriminatory.
Bombay High Court has already passed an interim order allowing women to work night shifts at the Santacruz electronic export processing zone.
The Tamil Nadu and Andhra high courts have also struck down some clauses of Section 66 of the Act as unconstitutional.