Protection of women under the labour laws


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By : Adv. Rahul Nath on 21 January 2015

INTRODUCTION

Women constitute half the population of the society and it is presumed that best creation belong to the women. But it is a harsh reality that women have been ill-treated in every society for ages and India is no exception. Women are deprived of economic resources and are dependent on men for their living.

From the cradle to grave, females are under the clutches of numerous evils such as discriminations, oppressions, violence, within the family, at the work places and in the society. In order to improve the condition of women in India, Legislature enacted the large volume of enactments pertaining to industry or work which contain special provisions for women such as: The Workmen Compensation Act, 1923; Payment of Wages Act, 1936; Factories Act, 1948; Maternity Benefit Act, 1961; Minimum Wages Act, 1948; Employees State Insurance Act 1948 and Pensions Act, 1987; etc.

PROVISIONS FOR THE PROTECTION OF WOMEN UNDER LABOUR LAW

Under the Industrial laws the women have been bestowed the special position in the view of their unique characteristics, physically, mentally and biologically. Some of the Acts related to employment were enacted during British period as well as after independence. The main objectives for passing these laws are to enable the women to increase their efficiency, to increase their participation in useful services, to ensure their infant welfare and to provide equal pay for equal work. The important labour legislations covering the women are:

1. The Factories Act, 1948

The Factories Act is a part of labour welfare legislations wherein measures have been laid down to be adopted for the health, safety, welfare, working hours, leave and employment of young persons and women. Exclusive provisions for women have also been incorporated in the Act keeping in view their soft and tender personalities.

 Provisions for welfare of women:

  • Prohibition of employment of women during night hours
  • Prohibition of work in hazardous occupations.
  • Prohibition of employment of women in pressing cotton where a cotton opener is at work
  • Fixation of daily hours of work at nine.
  • Fixation of maximum permissible load.
  • Provision for crèche

In every factory where more than 30 women workers are ordinarily employed, there shall be a suitable room for the use of children under the age of six years of such women.

  • Provision for washing and bathing facilities. The Act provides for separate and adequately screened washing and bathing facilities for women.
  • Provisions for toilets. The factories Act must make it obligatory for any factory owner to maintain an adequate number of latrine and urinals separate for women.
  • Provisions for rest rooms and canteens.
  • Provisions for mandatory benefits.

All the above 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.

2. The Employees’ State Insurance Act, 1948

The Employees’ State Insurance Act, one of the most important social legislation in India, it has been enacted to provide for various benefits in different contingencies. Under this Act, insured women workers get sickness benefit, disablement benefit, medical benefit and funeral expenses along with insured men workers. However, in addition to these benefits, insured women workers also get maternity benefit in case of certain contingencies arising out of pregnancy, confinement, miscarriage, sickness arising out of pregnancy, premature birth of child or miscarriage and death. The duration of maternity benefit available to insured women in case of confinement is 12 weeks, of which not more than 6 weeks shall precede the expected date if confinement. The maternity benefit is paid subject to the condition that the insured women do not work for remuneration on the days in respect of which the benefit is paid, In the event of the death of an insured woman, the maternity benefit is payable to her nominee or legal representative for the whole period if the child survives, and if the child also dies, until the death of the child.

The Employees’ State Insurance Act, 1948 provides a scheme under which the employer and the employee must contribute a certain percentage of the monthly wage to the Insurance Corporation that runs dispensaries and hospitals in working class localities. It facilitates both outpatient and in-patient care and freely dispenses medicines and covers hospitalization needs and costs. Leave certificates for health reasons are forwarded to the employer who is obliged to honour them. Employment injury, including occupational disease is compensated according to a schedule of rates proportionate to the extent of injury and loss of earning capacity. Payment, unlike in the Workmen’s Compensation Act, is monthly. Despite the existence of tripartite bodies to supervise the running of the scheme, the entire project has fallen into disrepute due to corruption and inefficiency. Workers in need of genuine medical attention rarely approach this facility though they use it quite liberally to obtain medical leave. There are interesting cases where workers have gone to court seeking exemption from the scheme in order to avail of better facilities available through collective bargaining.

3. The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961

Economic dependence of women is what gives rise to their subordination in society today. Hence to remove such subordination and lay the foundation of equality women too must be made economically independent and must take an active role in all sectors of business today. Problem faced by women in the economic sphere of life are mostly relating to unequal wages and discrimination resulting from their biological role in nature of childbearing. To curb such problems and protect the economic rights of women the legislature introduced the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 and Maternity Benefit Act, 1961.

A maternity benefit is one that every woman shall be entitled to, and her employer shall be liable for, the payment of maternity benefit, which is the amount payable to her at the rate of average daily wages for the period of her actual absence. The Maternity Benefit Act aims to regulate of employment of women in certain establishment for certain periods before and after childbirth and provides for maternity and certain benefits.

Women can claim benefits under the act everywhere except in factories and the other establishment where the Employee’s State Insurance Act is applicable. Women who are employed, whether directly or through a contractor, have actually worked in the establishment for a period of at least 80 days during the 12 months are eligible to claim the benefits under this act. Cash benefits to women who are absent from work during the maternity leave, are not be less than two-thirds of her previous earnings.

Discharge or dismissal during maternity leave is considered to be void. When pregnant women absents herself from work in accordance with the provision of this act, it shall be unlawful for her employer to discharge or dismiss her during, or on account of, such absence, or give notice of discharge or dismissal in such a day that notice will expire during such absence or vary to her disadvantage any of the conditions of her services. Dismissal or discharge of a pregnant woman shall not disentitle her to the maternity benefit or medical bonus allowable under the act except if it was on some other ground.

Failure to pay maternity benefits or discharge or unemployment of woman due to maternity will result in imprisonment of the employer for not less than three months which may extend to one year and a fine of rupees two hundred which may extend to five thousand.

In Air India v. Nargesh Mirza [AIR 1981 SC 1829; 1981 (4) SCC 335], the Supreme Court struck down the provision of rules which stipulated termination of service of an air hostess on her first pregnancy as it arbitrary and abhorrent to the notions of a civilized society.

The ongoing argument in some circles is that the wage differential between women and men is caused by the need to compensate the higher labor costs employers incur by hiring women, in accordance with special laws to protect maternity.

Employers prefer to hire a male instead of female, without the burden of these additional monetary costs. This is however not enough as many employers do not hire married women or dismiss them before pregnancy. The act provides some protection to women economically especially today in an age where single mothers are becoming more prevalent it gives them stability in their lives to have their wages and the security of returning to a steady job. My personal views are that this act is not enough to guarantee women equality and economic security but it is definitely a starting step and though there are several bridges to cross.

4. The Equal Remuneration Act, 1976

Equal pay for equal work for women and men is a vital subject of great concern to society in general and employees in particular. There was a common belief that women are physically weak and should be paid less than their male counter parts for the same piece of work. Women all over the world, had till recently been very much in articulate and were prepared to accept lower wages even when they were employed on the same jobs as men. Even in the economically and socially advanced countries where remarkable progress has been made, discrimination still exists. In India, in the initial stages when legislation for the protection of workers was hardly thought of, factory owners taking advantage of the backwardness and poverty, recruited women on a large scale at lower wages and made them work under inhuman condition. International Labour Organization has evolved several conventions to provide protection to employed women. A number of ILO conventions have been ratified by India and some of these though not ratified have been accepted in principle. The principle of ILO has been incorporated in the constitution of India in the form of Article 39, which directs the states to secure equal pay for equal work for both men and women. To give effect to this constitutional provision the parliament enacted the Equal Remuneration Act, 1975.

Under this law, no discrimination is permissible in recruitment and service conditions except where employment of women is prohibited or restricted by the law. The situation regarding enforcement of the provisions of this law is regularly monitored by the Central Ministry of Labour and the Central Advisory Committee.

5. The Workmen Compensation Act, 1923

In any industrial society the problem of labour management relations becomes so important that some sort of social insurance becomes necessary to provide adequate protection from losses caused to the labourers by accidents. With a view to improve the condition of the workmen some social insurance legislations have been enacted. The Workmen’s Compensation Act 1923 is one of the earliest pieces of labour legislation, adopted to benefit the labourers. It covers all cases of accident ‘arising out of and in the course of employment’ and the rate of compensation to be paid in a lump sum, is determined by a schedule proportionate to the extent of injury and the loss of earning capacity. The younger the worker and the higher the wage, the greater is the compensation subject to a limit. The amount of compensation payable depends in case of death on the average monthly wages of the deceased workman and in case of an injured workman both on the average monthly wages and the nature of disablement. The Act intended to ensure the rehabilitation of the workman himself or of his dependent. The dependent can claim compensation in both cases i.e. death or injury. This law applies to the unorganised sectors and to those in the organised sectors who are not covered by the Employees State Insurance Act, 1948 which is conceptually considered to be superior to the Workmen’s Compensation Act.

6. The Minimum Wages Act, 1948

The minimum wages Act was passed for the welfare of labours. This Act has been enacted to secure the welfare of the workers in a competitive market by providing for a minimum limit of wages in certain employments. The Act provides for fixation by the central government of minimum wages for employments detailed in the schedule of the Act and carried on by or under the authority of the central government, by railway administrative or in relation to a mine, oilfield or major port, or any corporation established by a central Act, and by the state government for other employments covered by the schedule of the Act. The object of this Act is to prevent exploitation of the workers and for this purpose it aims at fixation of minimum wages which employer must pay.

The Act contemplates that minimum wages rates must ensure not only the mere physical need of the worker which would keep him just above starvation but must ensure for him not only his subsistence and that of his family but also preserve his efficiency as a worker. It would therefore, provide not merely for the bare subsistence of his life but the preservation of the workers and so must provide for some measure of education, medical requirements and amenities.

 7. National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005

Recently, the Government of India enacted National Rural Employment Guarantee Act whereby anyone who is willing to provide manual unskilled labour will be offered wage employment for 100 days. This Act provides the enhancement of the livelihood security of the households in rural areas of the country by providing at least one hundred days of guaranteed wage employment in every financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work.

Priority is given to women in the allocation of work. Gender equality is one of the core elements of this poverty reduction plan which stipulates that at least one third of the labour force should be women with equal wages for both men and women. Various gender related objectives such as provision of hygienic work environments, safe drinking water, and childcare facilities at the work-site, distance of work-place not exceeding two miles from home, health care and nutrition are emphasized.

Women engaged in agricultural farming have to spend long hours under the hot sun but are invariably paid less than their male counterparts. Women’s participation in the labour force with no wage discrimination and direct control of resources and assets can substantially enhance her health, child welfare and socioeconomic status. This employment policy if properly implemented can certainly bring momentous changes in the lives of women.

The employment scheme undoubtedly has a positive impact on gender equity and power equation within the household. An alternative model of development must focus on the enhancement of living standards of rural India where majority of the population resides.

8. The Contract Labour (Regulation & Abolition) Act, 1970

Provisions of crèches were made where twenty or more women are ordinarily employed as contract labour. Female contract labour is to be employed by any contractor between 6.00 A.M. and 7.00 P.M. only with the exception of mid-wives and nurses in hospitals and dispensaries.

PRESENT STATUS OF WOMEN AT WORK

1) Participation of women in the workforce in 2008 is only:

  • 19.7% in the urban sector, and
  • 37.6% in the rural sector.

2) Women’s wage rates are, on an average:

  • only 75 % of men’s wage rates, and
  • constitute only 25% of the family income

3) In no Indian State do women and men earn equal wages in agriculture.

Thanks

Adv. Rahul Nath (MBA, LLB)

Via email from VimalaVidya

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