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Labour laws apply to that area of activity where workers are working under a contract of employment. As the workers are being subject to exploitation and discrimination and their human rights being violated so the need arose for the enactment of the labour laws for their protection and security. Working women form a major thick peace of society. Early measures for their protection were simple in character and were designed only to regulate the hours of work and employment. The establishment of the International Labour Organisation in 1919 influenced considerably the activities of the State in this field. Consequently, such laws were passed which not only regulated the hours of work but also contained provisions of health, safety and welfare of women workers and guarantees equality before law and equal treatment to women workers. Most of these laws have been inspired by the Conventions and Recommendations adopted by the International Labour Organisation.
Labour Welfare Legislation is of two kinds:
- The first statutory enactments contain those statutory enactments which provide measures for all workers and may contain special provisions for the welfare of the women workers.
- The second statutory enactments contain provisions exclusively for women workers. Example: Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 and the Sexual Harassment for Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 etc.
The Factories Act, 1948 and Provisions relating to Women
The act provides that “No woman or young person shall be allowed to clean, lubricate or adjust any part of a prime mover or of any transmission machinery while the prime mover or transmission machinery is in motion, or to clean, lubricate or adjust any part of any machine if the cleaning, lubrication or adjustment thereof would expose the woman or young person to risk of injury from any moving part either of that machine or of any adjacent machinery.” Section 27 of the Factories Act, 1948 prohibits employment of women in any part of a factory for pressing cotton in which a cotton opener is at work. Section 66(1) (b) of the Factories Act, 1948 states that no woman shall be required or allowed to work in any factory except between the hours of 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. Provision for separate latrines and urinals for female workers exist under Section 19 of the Act. Section 48 of the Act provides for the Crèches for the use of Children under age of 6 years.
All the provisions are simultaneously provided under the Plantations Labour Act 1951, The Mines Act, 1952, The Beedi and Cigar workers (Conditions of Employment) Act, 1966, The Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970 and the Interstate Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Condition of Services) Act, 1979.
Maternity Benefit Act, 1961
This act regulates employment of women in establishments before and after childbirth. Maternity leave to be offered by private employers in India has been brought at par with that of government employees in India. It provides for maternity leaves and certain other benefits such as leave for miscarriage or medical termination of pregnancy, leave with wages for tubectomy operation, payment of medical bonuses etc. It is applicable to factories, mines, the circus industry, plantations and shops and establishments employing at least 10 employees. According to the act the leave has been extended from 12 weeks to 26 weeks. It extends maternity benefits to commissioning and adopting mothers, (b) mandates employers to provide crèche facilities at the establishment, (c) allows women to work from home in certain cases and (d) requires employers to inform female employees at the time of their joining about maternity benefits available to them. If any employer fails to pay any amount of maternity benefit to a woman entitled under this Act or discharges or dismisses such woman during or on account of her absence from work in accordance with the provisions of this Act, he shall be punishable with imprisonment which shall not be less than three months but which may extend to one year and with fine which shall not be less than two thousand rupees but which may extend to five thousand rupees.
Equal Remuneration Act, 1976
No employer shall pay to any worker, employed by him in an establishment or employment, remuneration, whether payable in cash or in kind, at rates less favourable than those at which remuneration is paid by him to the workers of the opposite sex in such establishment or employment for performing the same work or work of a similar nature. Section 5 states No discrimination to be made while recruiting men and women workers and no employer shall, while making recruitment for the same work or work of a similar nature, make any discrimination against women except where the employment of women in such work is prohibited or restricted by or under any law for the time being in force.
Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013
This act applies to women harassed in the workplace including women working as domestic workers, daily wagers, temporary or permanent, full-time or part-time, as well as volunteers. The women may or may not be employed and can be of any age. The law is only applicable to women and women only. Act is for any woman who is harassed in any workplace. It is not necessary for the woman to be working at the workplace in which she is harassed. A workplace can be any office, whether government or private.
It is true that laws are made for the welfare and benefit of people but laws and Constitution do not by themselves solve all the problems. It is the sincere and strict implementation which matters. Although, the need for more and more laws is always felt in a welfare state like ours, yet the existing labour laws, with necessary modifications and amendments are sufficient, for the time being to take care of the women workers in the organised sector leaving unorganised sector of employment unattended. Therefore, these laws should be extended to unorganised sector also where women workers are in a large number. Even in organised sector, where these legislations apply, the statutory provisions are not strictly complied with. In many cases it has been found that protective measures such as crèches, maternity benefits, separate toilet and washing facilities etc are neither provided nor properly maintained.