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New Delhi: Provisions to ensure better protection of women in night shifts, accident insurance, a total bar on hiring children under 14 and penalties that rise along with general price levels are among the latest changes for the proposed factory amendment bill.

The changes, according to labour ministry documents reviewed by Mint and confirmed by two government officials, take into account some of the concerns raised in December 2014 by a parliamentary panel that vetted the previous bill.

The new bill also seeks to replace people-to-people interactions between regulators and entrepreneurs with institutional mechanisms.

“The labour ministry is trying to put in place a new factories act that gives equal opportunity to all workers. We seek to make the new act contemporary, simple, transformational, process re-engineered and outcome oriented," one of the two officials cited above said, requesting anonymity.

The official said keeping the equal opportunity part in mind, women workers will be allowed to work in night shifts but it will be the employer’s obligation to take care of their safety and security.

According to a ministry note, India’s female labour force participation rate is 27%, which needs to improve significantly for economic growth and financial independence of women. Besides, some 53 million female workers are suffering from disguised unemployment, meaning they are ready to work but cannot get a full year of employment.

The parliamentary panel had warned the labour ministry not to approach women’s security issues lightly. “In view of a spate of events all over the country where women working at odd hours have been subjected to physical harassment and brutality as well as mental trauma, the committee would like to caution the ministry not to undermine the import of safety provisions and leave any loopholes in the safeguard and protective Clauses for such vulnerable women workers," the panel had said.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, India reported 337,922 cases of crimes against women in 2014, against 309,546 in 2013 and 244,270 in 2012.

The first official said the bill will provide for adequate safety of women workers. “In case of night shifts for women worker, the occupier shall be responsible to provide for night creches, protection of dignity and honour, protection from sexual harassment and remain fully responsible for safety within the factory premises and during transit from workplace to their home," the ministry document said. “Night duty of women workers shall always be voluntary and express written consent shall always be on record."

The second official said child labour in factories will be barred in sync with the changes in the child labour law. Accordingly, the word child has been omitted as the proposed amendment to the child labour law does not allow children below the age of 14 to be engaged in an employee-employer relationship.

The second official said the new factories bill will mandate employers to buy accident insurance. Penalty for violating rules will range from 30,000 to 12,00,000. Severe breaches may also invite a jail term of up to three years.

Penalties extend outside the factory management as well. An inspector or a doctor if found guilty of conniving with the factory owner or found violating the rules on their own must pay penalties up to 50,000.

All penalties will be price-indexed, with May 2015 as the base. This means the penalties will rise along with the general price levels in the economy.

The rules won’t apply to those who deploy up to 40 workers. Entrepreneurs will get all required labour and regulatory approvals digitally.

D.L. Sachdeva, national secretary of the All India Trade Union Congress, said that unions have opposed some of the provisions like night shifts for women workers and keeping companies deploying more than 20 workers and less than 40 workers out of the factories act.

“They told us that the amendment of the act will improve exports from India and promote manufacturing. But we believe that it is part of a larger exercise to ease the labour law rules for the industry sector," Sachdeva added.

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