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What Does the Indian Labour Law Say About Working Women?

Indian women make up around 36% of the workforce , and this number should increase as the pandemic calms down. Schools open up, and restrictions become looser, more women would be able to return to work as well. The Indian government has always encouraged professional women, even during times when it was culturally unusual to do so. Some measures they’ve taken to support working women are as follows.

The Prohibition of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013

A major concern women face is workplace sexual harassment. But this act safeguards them from a long list of actions that could make them uncomfortable. This act outlines the office’s requirements to create a complaint mechanism, such as setting up an Internal Complaints Committee. It states that the ICC must have 4 members under the leadership of a senior woman employee. Two members should be women who have experience in either social work or the law. There can be a third member that’s affiliated with an NGO. There are many such details illustrated in this act.

The act also describes the measures to be taken when filing a complaint against an aggressor, including the timeline, any extensions, the inquiry into the matter, investigation, and all the necessary paperwork and reports. All this must be submitted to a district officer. Section 15 of this act offers several factors for consideration when deciding on the compensation if the complainant is deemed to be in the right. That includes considering the level of mental trauma, pain, emotional distress, suffering, medical expenses incurred, the respondent’s financial status, loss in career opportunities, and whether the payment should be given in a lump sum or instalments. The accused person may face a significant financial loss if found liable by the ICC. This act also decides whether this amount is payable from the aggressor’s salary or wages.

Women and Labour Laws

1. The Factories Act, 1948

This act encapsulates many rights of factory workers and was initially passed to mainly protect children. But certain aspects are relevant for women workers. For example, creches are to be provided if there are 30 or more women workers are employed. There are many women-centric features. Some are as follows:

a. Women must have separate toilets and washrooms that have doors.

b. They can’t be made to clean or oil any moving machine.

c. Women can’t work for more than 48 hours in a week, or for over 5 hours at a stretch.

d. They must get at least one day off a week.

This act also describes the punishment for failing to follow these provisions.

2. Minimum Wages Act, 1948

This act says that women have to be paid the minimum wage fixed by the government under this act. There have been instances of women being paid less than men, and this has even dipped below the minimum wage. This is unjust, discriminatory, and unacceptable under this act. It also applies to women workers who work temporarily, on daily wages, who work for a contractor, and agricultural workers.

This act protects those women who may agree to work for less than the minimum wage out of ignorance or desperation. If the employer is found guilty of paying below this amount, the worker can complain to the labour inspector. Another important facet of this act is that a worker cannot be made to work more than 9 hours. If they are doing so, they must be paid double their wages. This is called overtime and is a basic concept in most developed countries. There must also be stipulated rest times and days off for the employee to recuperate.

Minimum wages are fixed either on a daily, hourly, or a monthly basis. Failure to meet the requirements of this act will result in a penalty. On the other hand, if a complainant is found misusing the act, they will be penalised. Due to this act’s potential for misuse, courts have been discouraged from entertaining lawsuits under this act.

3. The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961

Article 42 in the Indian Constitution states that there must be provisions made to secure just and humane working conditions for pregnant women, and maternity relief. This benefit is a payment given to a woman worker. It’s the same rate as the average of her daily wages. This calculates the period of her actual absence immediately preceding and including her delivery date. It also includes six weeks immediately following that day.

Maternity leave, economic remuneration during the absence of work, leave to bring up children, and the non-termination of service during pregnancy, were taken into consideration and this act was updated in 1975 to include an extension of maternity protection to new categories of women workers, of the period of prescribed leave, more liberal provisions for extended or extra leave, higher rates of maternity benefits, and more protection in general. Certain social security schemes were established. There are many nuances to this Act and it contains what to do if a woman undergoes a miscarriage, complaints against companies that don’t carry these out, relevant inspectors, and the procedure to seek remedy.

4. The Equal Remuneration Act, 1976

There must be parity in wages, and this act enforces rules to ensure this. Equal pay for equal work is highlighted in article 39. The employer must give equal remuneration to both men and women workers for the same work or work of a similar nature. There shouldn’t be any discrimination during recruitment, either. Employers can’t even invoke financial incapability from the Equal Remuneration Act of 1976 if they’re caught paying unequally.

This act also protects candidates from gender discrimination during recruitments, training, and any other process. It describes what kind of advisory committee needs to be set up to address issues related to salaries and remuneration. It also mentions the power of this act and to what extent it has an impact, as well as the penalties for not following suit. It includes remedies that the complainant can use to seek justice.

These are some of the provisions laid down by the country’s legal system to safeguard working women’s rights. As the nation progresses, more women will join the workforce and they will feel empowered by such laws. That being said, these laws and regulations are ever evolving and companies need to stay on top of the constant changes to ensure their workforce is best represented.