Women in night shift, a big boost

The Karnataka government has done well to set in motion steps to open up work in the night shift to women. This will not only expand job opportunities for women but also end the existing discrimination in this regard against women. Under the Karnataka Shops and Commercial Establishments Act, 1961, and the Factories Act, 1948, women are not allowed to work between 8 pm and 6 am. Then around 10 years ago, Karnataka amended the laws to crank open the door to allow women to work night shifts in the Information Technology and IT-Enabled Services sectors. Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Haryana then allowed women to work night shifts in the services sector.

Karnataka has taken this further by allowing women to work in the night shift in the services and manufacturing sectors as well. Allowing women to work the night shift benefits not only women but the industry as well. Women constitute 60% of the labour force in the garment industry and 50% in the textile industry. With firms now able to hire women for the night shift too, productivity in these industries could rise. It was to ensure the security of women that in the past the government refrained from allowing them to work in night shifts. However, locking up women at night or preventing them access to employment at night is not the solution. It disempowers women and shrinks their job opportunities. Instead, the approach of the government should have been to facilitate their working the night shift and to this end, provide a secure working environment that ensures their safety at work and on their way to work. It is heartening that the Karnataka government proposes to do just that. It is now for the other states to follow suit. While opening the doors for women to work the night shift, the Karnataka government has made it mandatory for firms to provide a supportive and safe environment. The latter will have set up crèches, provide security for women at the workplace, safe transport to work etc. The government must monitor these firms to ensure that such safeguards are indeed put in place.

The move to allow women work night shifts is laudable. But its success hinges on the safety of women. If incidents of sexual harassment and assault of women occur, it will make women and their families think twice about working in night shifts. The amendment of the laws will be a missed opportunity to empower women. This makes it imperative for the government to ensure that public safety especially for women is stepped up.

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