Women Can Work Night Shifts

But When Will The Govt Ensure Women’s Equality and Safety in Factories?

Modern industry…. MNC…. Worker in Nokia…. Prestigious….. Valued highly in matrimonial market… Ambika, 22, one such Nokia worker, died on October 31, 2010 in her second shift during working hours. When she attempted to fix some problem in the machinery, her head got stuck in the machine. Workers immediately stopped work and tried to pull her out of the machine. When it was difficult they tried to break the machine. The Nokia management, which was very cautious and concerned in not causing any damage to the machine, intervened and said that the machine is very expensive and that it cannot be broken. By the time Ambika was retrieved out of the machine she was dead. She was actually dying gradually, blood oozing out from her nose and mouth, right in front of the eyes of her fellow workers who were helplessly watching. The management fixed the machine immediately with the help of a technician, wiped away Ambika’s blood on the machine and after a day break, as the following day was declared a holiday by the company apprehending workers’ protest, the machine was put on regular intense operation.

The Modi Government, moving to amend the Factories Act to legalize night shifts for women in factories, claims that this is a historic move to do away with discrimination and usher in equal rights for women.

No doubt, a law that prohibits women from working night shifts is patronizing and patriarchal. Night shifts for women workers cannot be opposed from the point of safety of women workers. After all, women are not safe in this country in any part of the day, and women face sexual harassment and unsafe conditions of work in factories in the day time too. The safety of women workers whether in day or night shifts is the responsibility of the employer and of the government. The question is, what are the measures to ensure that safety?

There were many attempts by different state and central governments prior to the present attempt to amend the Factories Act to allow women workers in night shifts. In a way we can say that TN government is a ‘pioneer’ in this respect.

ILO Protocol 89, adopted in 1990, allowing appropriate governments to amend laws to enable women workers come for night shifts was ratified by the Indian government in 2003 when Vajpayee was the Prime Minister. The same year July, with an amendment to facilitate this, The Factories Act, (Amendment Bill) 2003 was introduced in Lok Sabha. The Factories Act, (Amendment Bill) 2005 was introduced in Lok Sabha by UPA I with the same amendment. This amendment did not allow for women to be dropped off at their doorsteps, but only at the ‘nearest point’. Women opposed this then, pointing out that at night on dark streets, they would need to be dropped off at their doorsteps.