In 2019, the Karnataka Government issued an order allowing women to work night shifts in industries registered under the Factories Act 1948. The order also required factories to acquire written consent from female workers for working night shifts. On February 22nd, 2023, the Karnataka Legislative Assembly passed a Bill to amend the Factories Act to allow women to work night shifts in factories. The bill has also been passed by the Legislative Council. Furthermore, the change allows people who work 12 hours a day for four consecutive days to have a three-day break each week.
The Bill allows women to work night shifts (between 7 pm to 6 am) in factories, subject to employer-specified safety measures. The Bill requires businesses to combat sexual harassment and provide women workers with CCTV and GPS-equipped transportation during night hours. Employers must also provide acceptable working conditions for women and not discriminate against any employee in the course of their employment. The Bill requires that women be hired in groups of at least ten and that factories have enough lighting and CCTV coverage, with film kept for at least 45 days.
With regard to hours of work and overtime, the Bill seeks to empower the State Government to extend the daily maximum hours of work up to 12 hours (including the breaks/rest intervals), provided that the maximum weekly hours of work do not exceed 48 hours. Such extension may be subject to conditions laid down by the government and requires the written consent of the workers to work for the extended hours of work.
As per the extant Factories Act, 1948, the workers are entitled to rest interval every 5 hours of work, however, the Bill seeks to extend the same to 6 hours.Further, the total overtime hours in a quarter shall not exceed 144 hours.
The amendment allows women to work night shifts and provides them with safety measures such as transportation, CCTV coverage, and appropriate working conditions to promote gender equality and empower women to participate in the workforce on equal terms with men. It also gives women greater job choices and work-hour flexibility, which can have a good economic impact on both individuals and society as a whole. Furthermore, Bill’s safety provisions can aid in the prevention of sexual harassment and other types of violence against women in the workplace.
The changes proposed in respect of hours of work may help the industries to have their own working structure basis the business requirements, subject to necessary permissions from the government. However, the requirement that the workers should consent to work overtime, may trigger disputes/differences between the employer and workers, even in genuine cases requiring overtime work by the workers.