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Update: Friday, May 11 - 7.15 am:   
Karnataka Governor Halts Law on Night Shifts  

Now it's official: Karnataka Bans Night Shift for Women

Bangalore, May 11
: The Karnataka government has banned night shift for women in shops and commercial establishments in a bid to check rising crime against them and ensure their safety and security.

State Labour Minister Iqbal Ansari told reporters here on Thursday that employing women for night shift after 8 pm by shops and commercial establishments had been made a punishable offence through a gazette notification issued last week.

"We have notified the ban in a special gazette April 30 after receiving the assent of Governor T N Chaturvedi to the Karnataka Shops and Commercial Establishments (Amendment) Bill, 2007 on April 27," Ansari said.

Though the ban does not apply to knowledge sectors such as IT and biotechnology (BT) and essential services like hospitals and railways, business establishments, private offices, print media, hotels and entertainment industry are barred from employing women after 8 pm.

"We will mention the services exempted under the Act along with the government order. Women in electronic media are, however, exempted, as the industry comes under the IT Act," Ansari noted.

The Labour Act 1961 was amended during the budget session of the state legislature in April after members of both the houses approved the amendment to the bill.

"Employers violating the new law will face imprisonment for six months and fines ranging from Rs 10,000-20,000. My department will come out with rules based on the new bill in the next fortnight," Ansari pointed out.

"Women working in the IT/BT sector have been spared under the Act because the industry had taken an exemption in 2002," he added.

Meanwhile, State Women's Commission chairperson Pramila Nesargi said the notification was against Article 21 of the constitution, which guarantees the fundamental right to life.

"Not even Parliament can pass a legislation that is against the constitution, which guarantees equal status and no discrimination based on gender. We will challenge the amendment in the court," Nesargi, a noted lawyer and former BJP legislator, told reporters later.


Night shift ban unconstitutional
Deccan Herald
Sources in the law department said the proposal to amend the Act was not brought to their notice. Advocate General Uday Holla when asked about the amendment said that he has not seen it.

The controversial amendment to the Karnataka Shops and Commercial Establishments Act 1961, which makes the law on night shift for women more stringent,  apparently did not pass through legal scrutiny before being passed.

Sources in the law department said the proposal to amend the Act was not brought to their notice. Advocate General Uday Holla when asked about the amendment said that he has “not seen it”. Legal experts feel that the fact that it also contravenes Article 14, Article 19 and Article 21 guaranteeing Fundamental Rights, perhaps missed the attention of the law-makers.
“The Act cannot stand judicial scrutiny because it infringes on the Fundamental Rights. Also, the Government cannot make a classification giving benefit to certain sectors and banning the others. Karnataka is perhaps the only state to ban women from working during the night while adding a penal provision to it. It may not pass legal muster,” a legal expert said.

And because of these reasons, the Act may not be notified.  Highly placed sources in the government told Deccan Herald that the amendment is more a “knee-jerk” reaction to the High Court directive to the State during the Pratibha murder trial, to provide security to the women workforce.

Legal experts point out that the government has  acted in haste without going into the provisions,

Night shift ban for women draws severe criticism

The Hindu

  • Pramila Nesargi terms decision retrograde, discriminatory
  • FKCCI resolves to meet chief minister

Bangalore: The Federation of Karnataka Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FKCCI) has resolved to meet Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy and Labour Minister Iqbal Ansari to demand withdrawal of the decision banning night shifts for women in shops and commercial establishments.

An interactive meeting organised by the trade body also debated the possibility of moving the court if the Government remains adamant.

`No consultation'

Speaking as the chief guest at the interactive session on Wednesday, Karnataka Women's Commission chairperson Pramila Nesargi demanded to know how the Government had passed the amendments without consulting a statutory body such as the commission.

The move was retrograde, unconstitutional and discriminatory, Nesargi added.


She demanded that not only the amendments but also the provisions of the original Act passed in 1961, which said women and young people could not work in night shifts, be annulled.

Nesargi said that National Commission for Women had already taken a stand that women should be allowed to work on all three shifts.

Job loss

The Kerala Law Reforms Committee had also taken a similar stand.

The recent amendments of the Karnataka Government were cleverly worded and banned women from night shift without stating it in so many words.

It had made violation of the rule punishable for the employer, which would in reality translate to lakhs of women losing jobs, Nesargi pointed out.

The Government would do well to address issues of women's security rather than bring out such amendments, she added.

FKCCI president R C Purohit, other members of the trade body and representatives of Association of Women's Entrepreneurs of Karnataka participated in the interaction.

Is there a dark side to the Night Work Ban? 

Anita Ratnam / India Interacts

The question " why are you going out at night?" has always had connotations about morality, apart from safety. So when the Karnataka Government bans women's night work and proclaims to be acting in the interest of women's safety, it is the accompanying measures, which could reveal unarticulated intentions. 

The proposed ban will cover a wide spectrum of women whose working day in "shops and establishments" might end at any time between 8 and 11 pm, as well as those whose working "day" begins after dark. The former would include women in shops, restaurants and supermarkets that are open after 8 pm. It will make little sense for the employers to keep women in these jobs if they cannot stay on after 8 pm till closing time. So it seems that women will loose these jobs to men and pave the way for negative discrimination based on gender.

What about those whose work begins at night? For women who may come in before 10 pm and work through the night, safety is NOT the key issue as their time on the road could be late evening and early mornings. Their issues include- fatigue, vulnerability to colo-rectal and breast cancers and hormonal disruptions caused by long exposure to light. 

For women, sleep in the daytime is not always possible, as household chores remain inescapable, leading to higher sleep debt than men. Other studies have documented the social disruptions in marriage, family and childcare caused by night working parents. As the main decision makers at work are almost always on the day shift, night workers are also isolated from power centres at work. 

Yet the relentlessly expanding global market 24/7economy demands night workers. In such a scenario, the rotation of shifts ( which already exists), is the only solution to the problems listed above that bridges people's need for livelihood and health with the market's demand for night workers. The impact of a total ban on women working night shifts in certain establishments, is that men will have to do all the night shifts. Women will be restricted to operations that do not require night work. While this could be a source of relief for those who find the compulsory night shift a terrible burden, in organisations where shift work is an integral part of the work flow, women will surely be either sidelined or asked to quit.

The Karnataka ban exempts essential services like hospitals, transport, police, utilities like water and electricity etc. While the State is quick to invoke ESMA during strikes, how much priority has been given to ensure that women workers are adequately paid and safely dropped to their doorsteps after they have taken care of society's needs- be it delivering babies or managing an airline check-in counter?

To these "essential" service providers, the Karnataka State has added another category--of those in IT and IT- es (essential to the state image and exchequer!). It is ironic that it is in the call centres that women have been able work very odd hours as transport is available from home to work place under 2002 agreement (not Legislation ) between the Labour Department  and the IT industry.

Further, the Pratibha murder investigations are revealing that though her death occurred on the road, its origins lie in a conflict with her colleague. This only underlines that safety is more to do with men's attitudes to women in the workplace, rather than to working hours or transportation.  

In 2005, the Factories Act 1948 was amended to allow women to work in night shifts "provided adequate safeguards are made towards… health, dignity and safety. While the total lack of safety and deplorable condition of women working in the iron ore mines in Sandur- Bellary, has not attracted any state attention the proposed ban seems to be a case of crocodile tears, as the large majority of women are in the unorganised sector. 

For those working in "shops and establishments" several exemptions have been allowed regarding work timings. In the proposed ban, the emphasis on hotels, spas and recreation, also suggests that the state has usurped a moral guardian role.. Suddenly a concern about women's safety mutates into a concern about safety of society from "immoral" women. And the State, appears like a prison guard who restricts women's work options as the only way to ensure their safety.

For all the hype about transforming Bangalore into a modern megapolis with skyscrapers and metro rail, it seems the State has forgotten that in a truly modern city, women will feel safe to move around in the urban nightscapes - going to work, study, shop or just meet with friends. Today there are very few women on the streets after 9 pm, and after the ban comes into effect, that number will only come down.

What a shame!

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