If facilities for women on night shifts are bad it doesn’t mean that night shifts should be banned!
In 2005 an amendment (Factories Act 1948) was introduced to allow women to work in late night shifts, but only if adequate provisions for safety and transportation were followed. In reality, no one adheres to the law. An interesting study* undertaken last year by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) on women on nights shifts in four industries (Textiles, Leather, Hospitals, BPO) brings this out.
When it comes to safety at work, a large percentage of women on night shifts feel insecure, but amongst the industries surveyed, it is those working in BPO’s who felt the most safe. And also those who worked for big, well-known firms and those who were in highly skilled jobs.
Leather Industry (45 percent felt insecure)
Textiles Industry (34 percent)
Hospitals (13 percent)
BPOs (8 percent only)
Small-scale firms (45 percent felt insecure)
Medium scale firms (26.4 percent)
Large-scale firms (13 percent only)
Low skilled women (34 percent felt insecure)
Moderately skilled women (29 percent)
Highly skilled women (8 percent only)
This is significant, because we usually feel that BPO employees are unsafe. That is what the media mostly reports about.
Child-care facilities are almost non-existent. Almost 92 percent of respondents were dissatisfied with child-care at the work-place.
Women on night shifts also faced commuting problems because of lack of adequate transport arrangements by employers. And expectedly, highly skilled women employees faced this problem the least, with only 2 percent facing any commuting problem. However, almost a quarter of the low-skilled women had a problem commuting to and fro from work. Those working in Kolkata, Mumbai and Pune faced the maximum commuting problem and those in Delhi, Hyderabad and Ludhiana faced the least.
There are other problems at work too, like harassment, which night workers face more than their day counterparts.
What this study revealed was that the bigger the company, the more conscious they were about providing safety facilities for women and this could well be because they had more women employees working for them. It could also be because they want to protect their brand name or were following international norms (being a multi-national). And highly skilled women employees are taken care of better, given the value the company places on them.
Some people want to use this information as an excuse to go back to the dark ages
Some people feel that women should just give up the job if they face problems. In fact some politicians are against women working at nights. There was a controversy in Karnataka last year about this issue after the murder of a BPO employee, although the state government took back their decision after protests from women’s groups. A few months ago the General Secretary of the CPI, Mr. A B Bardhan strongly condemned ASSOCHAM for recommending such a labour reform (allowing women to work night shifts) because companies neglected to provide safety rules.
I think it’s ridiculous to even think of banning women from working nights. The facilities that presently exist for them will start to deteriorate and worse, women will lose their jobs as companies will hesitate to hire women if the nature of their industry dictates shifts. This means that women in industry will decrease and as a consequence, so will facilities, even for day workers.
The reality is that a large percentage of women work to support their family or themselves. And they cannot refuse (even if they wish to) the night shift because it is necessary to the very nature of their job. To deny them the right to choose whether to take up a job, with the government playing Big Brother, is plain wrong. The government can instead expend their energy by trying to enforce rules.
If conditions for women are bad now, can you imagine how bad they will become if women are banned from working nights? It will give an excuse for those reluctant to provide facilities to renege on them.
And think of those who will work late hours anyway, because they need the job. Maybe not in the organised sector (factories) but plenty of other places.
Life is tough for women who do night shifts
What many don’t understand is the kind of hardship women go through (in a traditional society like India’s) to keep their job, any job, whether a day job or a night job. For women in night jobs it’s worse. They suffer social and domestic problems. Some people question their morality, including their families whom they support! And they are also castigated for “neglecting” their home and family.
The study showed that women in low-skilled jobs faced more of such humiliations…but the very fact that they kept on working shows that they need the job, to financially support the very people who question their morality!
It is also a fact that women who work nights face a lot of health problems…in fact studies have shown that they are more prone to breast cancer due to exposure of unnatural light. Also, women who worked nights had many health problems as they did not get their proper sleep in the day-time due to domestic work.
And the study also revealed that 83.2 percent of women did not do night shifts because of the higher pay offered – they did it because their job demanded it.
Indian women always worked nights
I wonder why politicians rake up this issue (of wanting to ban night shifts), when women working nights has always been a reality in India. And legally too. That is because state governments had the power to allow night shifts for women in certain industries like fish curing and fish canning industries (to prevent damage to raw material). And hospitals always had women in night shifts.
India allowing night shifts for factory workers in 2005 was pretty late by world standards. It was as far back as 1948 when the (International Labour Organisation (ILO) started to allow night work in certain industries and these rules were further relaxed as time went on. In 1990 certain safeguards to protect pregnant women were brought in.
It is interesting to know that in China today, 46.6 percent of the labor force comprises of women.
If women work, it ends poverty
The link between economic development and the number of women in the workforce has been proved. It also a fact that women tend to spend their income on food and education of their children rather than on themselves, and this benefits the family and society. This has been proved in numerous studies. Today, if India has to be anywhere in the world stage, it cannot ignore the contribution of women. It is the only way India can become a developed country and raise the standard of living for all. If you want to read more about this, go here.
(*on 272 participants including 216 women employees, 56 employers randomly chosen from BPOs, hospitals, textiles, garments and leather industries from 9 different cities – Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Ludhiana, Ahmedabad and Pune.)