Grandma's Tales

May 4, 2007

Night jobs for women 1

Filed under: Games People Play,Government,Society — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 9:47 pm

I don’t believe this: Today, the Karnataka assembly passed a bill banning night work beyond 8 pm for women . Significantly, women staff in IT and hospitals have been exempted from this.
Banning? You mean the government admits it is not safe for women to go out after 8 pm? It admits Karnataka state has a serious law & order problem and women have to be locked up in their homes?
You mean it is ok for women in hospitals and IT to do night shifts? Their safety is not important? The argument could be that IT industry takes particular care of the women workers’ safety. What about hospital staff? Nothing is likely to happen to them? Men will stop to find out which sector a woman works in before deciding to molest her?
The worst hit will be the hospitality industry. More than 50% of its staff consists of women. I see something foul in this. The hospitality industry will now have “talks” with the government (guess what will take place) and then the minister will relent.
The reason given for this extremely regressive bill is that “some women’s groups asked the government to pass this law”. I refuse to believe this. I would like to talk to those “women’s groups”. I want to know how old these “representatives” are. I want to know if they go out after 8 pm. When they go out to attend weddings, do they return home before 8 pm? Just how ridiculous can you get? Is it safe for women to travel in public/inter-state buses after 8 pm? How about trains?
Only a government incapable of making roads safe for all will resort to this knee-jerk reaction. Why couldn’t it tell those women, “in our governance, it is perfectly safe for women to go to work at night?” Shouldn’t the choice to work at night be left to women?
Here are excerpts from what I wrote on the subject some years ago. Sorry it is longish, but has all the arguments.

Rules governing employment of women beyond sundown have their origin in the Factories Act of 1948 whose blanket ban said, “No woman shall be required or allowed to work in any factory except between the hours of 6 am and 7 pm.” However state governments could make rules providing for exemption to women in fish curing and fish canning industries where workers were needed at night to prevent damage to raw material. This exemption had inbuilt safeguards: it would be reviewed every three years and hours for women extended only up to 9pm.

As more women joined the work force and more avenues of work opened up for them the Act began to lose its ‘ ‘protective’ sheen to reveal a ‘restrictive’ tint. Women job seekers wanted to be allowed to work nights. The Act stood in the way of their promotions and better remuneration. This duel between the demand for night shifts and the ban on it, between the right to work and the restriction on it found echoes in various states in different industries. An engineer from L&T, a chemist in EB and workers in FACT and Cochin Shipping claimed freedom to choose the shift. For EP Zones and their fully export oriented clothing units night shifts by women became a necessity. Garment factories in MEPZ had the tacit support of Labour Unions which asked why rules against all-women night shifts should not be relaxed. Individuals and factory owners filed a case in ’94. The argument was simple: “Don’t deny us employment, we have a right to occupation. Just give us safeguards.” The case went on from ’94 to 2000.

Report of the National Commission on Labour 2002 said, ” On the question of night work for women there need not be any restriction if the number of women workers in a shift in an establishment is not less than five and if the management is able to provide satisfactory arrangements for their transport, safety and rest after or before shift hours.” Says advocate Chandru of the Madras High Court, “Law -making bodies take their own time for modifications. Still amendment of the Factories Act is under preparation.”

The yes or no question was set to rest in the landmark R. Vasantha vs. Union of India case decided in the High Court of Madras in 2001. The petitioner was a woman worker of a textile mill employing a substantial number of women. She claimed that the Factories Act restricted women from carrying on their lawful employment. She challenged the validity of the particular provision on grounds that it was violative of the constitution. Significantly many of the petitioners were on the management of factories and mills where the FA had been implemented.

The judge agreed with the petitioners. He contended that ” in the field of employment in a factory as in any other field the third shift should be thrown open for women and it is for women to decide which shift they would work.” Denying night shift for women amounted to depriving them of chances of fair employment and equal opportunity. It was discrimination on the basis of sex and gender and therefore unconstitutional.

The judge also noted that the legislation so far had been based on stereotyped thinking of the role of women in family life. It was an instance of ‘romantic paternalism’ by which men wanted to restrict women to household activities so they could retain economic superiority. It was against their gaining independent status and economic freedom. He called it ‘legislative despotism’. He talked of adequate means of livelihood. He declared women were being recruited in the police, army and airforce. Why not in night shifts?

Meanwhile hundreds of women in Chennai think nothing of boarding the company van at midnight to their call, medical transcription and other IT enabled services centres for mid-night shifts – to air-conditioned offices, coffee breaks and fat pay checks. And a group of girls preparing for their law exams go through the FA and exclaim: “What nonsense!”



  1. […] Geeta Padmanabhan reacts to the Karnataka Government ban on night jobs for women: You mean the government admits it is not safe for women to go out after 8 pm? It admits Karnataka state has a serious law & order problem and women have to be locked up in their homes?You mean it is ok for women in hospitals and IT to do night shifts? Their safety is not important? […]

    Pingback by Ban on night jobs for women at Blogbharti — May 7, 2007 @ 2:52 am | Reply

  2. Totally ridiculous ! I believe there is no such order though, and the minister shot off his mouth prematurely. Still, I shudder to think that this is even being considered. Had also blogged about it here –

    Comment by apu — May 7, 2007 @ 11:38 am | Reply

  3. Hi apu, it is a bill that has been passed in the Karnataka assembly. Difficult to believe, though. It will not come to force till it is passed in the Legislative Council and is signed by the Governor.

    Comment by Geeta Padmanabhan — May 7, 2007 @ 6:46 pm | Reply

  4. its also unsafe for man to go out in night.. so lets ban work at night. and what happen with woman going out for late dinner? which is very common in b’lore.

    its yet another stupid decision by Karnataka government, which they are very famous for (remember ban on other language movie release not before 3-4weeks..!!)

    this is good article discuss in detail

    Comment by yuva — May 9, 2007 @ 2:53 pm | Reply

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