ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Redefining Women's Work


At a time when the employment scene in the country is under considerable stress, not necessarily all negative, the need is clearly for positive labour policies which protect the interests of workers even as they facilitate enhancement of productive efficiency in industry. Such optimism in regard to some of the current enthusiasms of the department of women and the ministry of labour is, however, evidently unwarranted. The ministry, on the advice of a group of ministers, has reportedly decided to make legislative provision for allowing night-shift work by women. But there is little indication that this major policy decision has been taken after careful enough consideration and study. Nor has there been sufficient public debate on the issue. So why the haste?

At one level, that elements of labour legislation, intended to be, though far from being actually, protective are being eroded is part of the push to provide a conducive environment for industrial growth. The Maharashtra government, for instance, has recently announced that it will suspend some mandatory clauses in labour legislation in Vidarbha and other backward areas in an effort to encourage investment and growth in the region. Gujarat’s labour record in recent times has been one of utter neglect; and the emergent industrial ‘giants’ in the south all appear to be examining ways and means of making it possible for industry to lower labour costs in a range of industries from agro-based products to pharmaceuticals and electronics. The particular move to permit night-shift working by women is the more worrying because of the conceptual garb in which it is being presented. Here the contours of state policy on women’s working hours are being carefully fashioned to appear progressive, as being part of the overall stated mission to promote women’s empowerment.

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