The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Nights out of Karnataka women’s life
Stop at 8

Bangalore, May 10: A law that will prevent women in Karnataka from working night shifts, except in sunrise sectors and some essential services, has raised the hackles of trade bodies and women’s groups.

According to the Karnataka Shops and Establishments Act, 2007, employers will not be able from July 1 to let women work between 8 pm and 6 am in shops, commercial establishments, hotels and the print media, where night shifts often stretch to early morning.

Women employed in infotech firms, biotechnology, the electronic media and BPOs are out of the ban’s ambit. So are hospitals and other essential services.

The amended bill was passed at 1.30 am on the last day of the budget session that ended a fortnight ago. But that such a law was to come into force became public only when labour minister Iqbal Ansari announced it a few days ago.

“We took the decision after receiving a number of complaints about crimes against women working night shifts,” the labour minister said. “We only want to enforce what is already there in the Shops and Establishments Act, 1961, which prohibits women from working at night. By moving an amendment, we have given the act more teeth. This has been done to ensure safety (of women) and not to curb their rights.”

The minister added that “employers violating the night shift rule will face imprisonment of up to three months or will be fined Rs 10,000. For a second offence, they will face six months’ imprisonment or will have to pay Rs 20,000 as fine”.

A whole gamut of sectors from organised garment workers to unorganised incense-stick makers, where women are employed in sizeable numbers, would come under the amended law, which has received the governor’s nod and has been notified in the gazette.

According to the rulebook in Bengal, women should not be at their workplace beyond 10 pm. But here, too, essential services like hospitals and the IT sector are exempt.

No bar

The state labour minister said the government was ready to exempt more sectors “if necessary”, but the organisations concerned would have to give an undertaking that they would be responsible for the safety of their women employees.

The chairperson of the Karnataka State Commission for Women, Pramila Nesargi, said the amendment did not directly ban women from working night shifts. But the bill had been drafted in a way that employers would not recruit women to avoid penalties.

“The government has no power to impose such a ban because it is in violation of the Constitution under Article 21, which gives both men and women the right to life,” said Nesargi.

Revathi Venkataraman, of the Association of Women Entrepreneurs of Karnataka, said: “If the government is serious about protecting women in the workplace, let it focus on providing security.”

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