New Delhi: The Union government wants states to take the initiative to allow women to work night shifts in factories as part of a plan to improve participation of women in the workforce.
As part of the efforts, the labour and employment ministry has written to all state chief secretaries to make the necessary change in state laws to allow women to work night shifts.
The centre’s move to ask states to shoulder the responsibility of making the necessary changes comes amid a slowdown in labour reforms at the central level with the Factories Amendment Bill pending for the past two years. The draft law, if cleared by Parliament, will allow women to work at night among other things.
“The central legislation is pending for quite some time and it’s required that states take the initiative. It’s a long pending demand of industry—and if not the centre, then states must strive for it. It’s time to accelerate labour reforms," said Rituparna Chakraborty, senior vice-president of Teamlease Services, a staffing company.
Women are currently permitted to work between 6am and 7pm. The ministry believes the change is necessary to improve labour force participation rate of women in India as well as give them equal opportunity in jobs.
Women labour force participation rate (LFPR) in India is a dismal 25.8% as against 74.4% LFPR among men, according to labour bureau data.
In the Economic Survey 2015-16, the government had expressed concern over fewer women in the workforce and had indicated the need to amend the situation.
The letter written by the Union labour secretary emphasises that the changed “socio-economic scenario" prompts revisiting the existing provisions of the Act, so as to align it with the “new realities". Mint has seen a copy of the letter.
The ministry argues since women constitute almost half of India’s population, not allowing them to work at night will be injustice to people as well as to the economy.
In recent years, there has been demand from women employees and manufacturing units requesting to permit women to work night shifts so that “they can earn additional income and come for work at their convenient timings", the ministry said in its letter.
The letter pointed out that Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu have already allowed women to work night shifts. The centre believes that a “similar action" may be initiated in “your states", it said in the letter requesting chief secretaries of states to take “necessary action."
This is the second instance after a December 2014 letter by the Prime Minister’s Office when the Union government formally wrote to states to change labour laws. While the PMO letter had asked for adopting significant labour reforms on the lines of those done in Rajasthan, the fresh labour ministry advisory asks them to amend the Factories Act to allow women more working opportunity.
“When the centre is relatively slow on reforms due to unfavourable political environment, states have the opportunity and right to take the initiative. We shall facilitate this if they follow the reform path," said a labour ministry official, who declined to be named. The labour ministry letter, however, underlined that the factories will have to ensure adequate safety and security of the women employees.