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Ensure global giants adhere to labour laws

Ensure global giants adhere to labour laws

India cannot maximise its growth opportunities unless more women join the workforce, and their marital status should not impede it. The Supreme Court in the 1960s observed that there is no proof that married women are more likely to be absent than unmarried women.

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Last Updated : 27 June 2024, 22:49 IST
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Leading Apple iPhone manufacturer Foxconn is in the spotlight after Reuters reported that the company is averse to hiring married women at its plant in Sriperumbudur, on the outskirts of Chennai.

While there is no written policy in place, the report stated that the hiring agencies have unofficial instructions to hire unmarried women. The reasons cited include possible absenteeism, especially due to childbirth, and the fact that they wear ornamental jewellery, which could interfere with the manufacturing process.

A day after the report, on June 26, the Ministry of Labour and Employment sought a detailed report from the Tamil Nadu government on the issue. On June 27, the company informed the Union government that a quarter of its new hires are married women, and its safety protocol, which requires that all employees avoid wearing metal irrespective of gender and religion, is not discriminatory.

India’s labour laws do not make any provision against discriminating on the grounds of marital status. While the Narendra Modi government has proposed new labour codes which make hiring and firing easier, and prevent gender discrimination in workplaces, they also do not have specific provisions on the issue of not hiring workers based on their marital status.

Even against the backdrop of strong economic growth, the labour force participation of women in India is abysmal. According to official data, the female workforce participation was 37 per cent in 2022-2023, compared with nearly 80 per cent for men.

Modi has rightly put women at the centre of the government’s initiatives to boost economic growth and income levels. However, there is still a lot to be done, and instances like the one at Foxconn undermine his stance, and that of a progressive state like Tamil Nadu.

India cannot maximise its growth opportunities unless more women join the workforce, and their marital status should not impede it. The Supreme Court in the 1960s observed that there is no proof that married women are more likely to be absent than unmarried women.

The report about Foxconn and other companies may also serve as a litmus test for governments that actively court foreign companies to set up manufacturing units, warehouses, and other facilities.

States compete with one another as such proposals bring in investment and create jobs. Amazon India has also been under fire this month amid allegations of labour law violations at the e-commerce giant’s warehouse in Manesar, Haryana. Workers complained of the lack of water and toilet breaks amidst a severe heatwave.

While investments by global behemoths, across sectors, are welcome as India benefits from their ‘China plus one’ policy, the Centre and states need to ensure that they strictly adhere to Indian labour and workplace laws. Only then can income levels rise equitably.

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