The union government has recognized the need to focus on the women workforce in India therefore, to break the realm of the existing patriarchal structure and enhance the participation of women workers in the labour market, the union government has taken effective measures to reform the archaic labour and employment law legislations for equal opportunity and congenial work environment for women workers. According to the most recent annual Periodic Labour Force Survey (“PLFS”) reports, the country’s expected Labour Force Participation Rate (“LFPR”) for women with typical status who are 15 years of age or older was 30.0%, 32.5%, and 32.8% during 2019–20, 2020–20, and 2021–20, respectively which indicates an upward trend. Furthermore, the female LFPR has gone up to 25.1% in 2020-21 from 18.6% in 2018-19.
The 29 (twenty-nine) labour law legislations have been consolidated into the following 4 (four) labour codes (“Labour Codes”): (i) Code on Social Security, 2020 (“SS Code”); (ii) The Occupational Safety, Health, and Working Conditions Code, 2020 (“OSH Code”); (iii) The Industrial Relations Code, 2020 (“IR Code”); and (iv) The Code on Wages, 2019 (“CW Code”) with an aim to improve the life and dignity of the labour force working in both the organized and the unorganized sectors in India.
This article outlines the impact of the new Labour Codes on women workers as the new Labour Codes are intended to bring significant changes in the service conditions, employee benefits, working hours and other substantial aspects of labour and employment law.
Impact of the new Labour Codes on women workers
Under the SS Code, the government has included a provision of a common creche facility for any establishment having 50 (fifty) or more employees wherein the establishments are provided with an option to pool their resources for setting up of common crèche. However, the code is silent on the aspect of the maximum amount of medical bonus being granted by the Central Government which in the extant framework amounted to INR 20,000/- (Indian Rupees Twenty Thousand).
Protection against gender discrimination
Under the CW Code, employers are required to pay an equal rate of remuneration to the employees regardless of their genders, performing the same work or work of a similar nature. It is interesting to note that the code has adopted a gender-neutral approach thereby prohibiting gender discrimination in relation to matters of recruitment and payment of remuneration to employees/workers. Furthermore, under the CW Code, unless the employment of women in such work is prohibited or restricted by or under any law currently in effect, no employer shall make any discrimination on the basis of sex when recruiting any employee for the same job or for a job of a similar nature in the terms of employment.
Permitting Women for the Night Shift
Earlier, women workers were not allowed to work in any factory between 6 A.M and 7 P.M. However, under the OSH Code, consenting women are allowed to work in all establishments including but not limited to factories, mines, ports, etc. before 6 A.M. and beyond 7 P.M. after obtaining their consent. Nonetheless, due consideration must be laid down on the fact that the safety and well-being of woman is of paramount importance, therefore, adequate transportation facilities, basic amenities in terms of toilets, washrooms, drinking water, entry and exit of the women employees with adequate lights should be taken into account by the employer in relation to women safety.
To align with the objective of the Labour Codes which are yet to be implemented by the Government of India, various state governments such as the Government of Haryana and the Government of Karnataka are undertaking measures with respect to employment of women employees during night shifts with a view to not only create more economic activities and employment opportunities but also provide equal opportunity of work to women workers in the respective states.
Conclusion: The conscious efforts taken by the Indian Government will inevitably help facilitate the participation of women in the labour market and improve the formal employment conditions of women workers. Such progressive steps by the Indian Government are the need of the hour, not only to ensure that the benefits under the Labour Codes are rightfully extended to vulnerable workers across all sectors but also to protect them from any discriminatory practices and exploitation. As an effective deterrent, stringent penal provisions coupled with a significant rise in the quantum of fines being levied on the employer have been prescribed under the Labour Codes for violation and non-compliance of its provisions thus, ensuring adequate safeguards for employment of women at such establishments.