Labouring to reform

Updated: Mar 31 2005, 05:30am hrs
While it is good that the government has made an attempt to remove artificial distortions in the labour market, with its decision to allow the female workforce to do night-shifts, much more needs to be done in the area of labour reforms. For instance, changes need to be made in the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, so that industries are able to remain competitive.

The Union Cabinet on Tuesday decided to amend the Factories Act, 1948labour comes under the concurrent listto allow women workers to do night-shifts. But more than a mere change in the law is needed if labour reforms are to become a reality. The government will also need to address the improper or inadequate implementation of labour laws in the country.

Union labour minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, during an interaction with industry leaders to discuss labour reforms, has rightly said that while these reforms are needed urgently by the industry to remain competitive in an era of rapid globalisation, the welfare of labour has to be kept in mind, too. Which is why measures like night-shifts for women aimed at bringing them at par with the male workforce, need to be reinforced with adequate safeguards like safety, security and transportation for them. At present, under section 66(1)(b) of the Factories Act, women workers can work only between 6 am and 7 pm. Working beyond these timings will require ensuring the safety and security of women employed in garment factories, instrumentation and electronics units, and other workplaces. Transportation, another issue for women working night-shifts, will also need to be addressed.

The textile industry, which employs a substantial female workforce has welcomed the move, stating that it will help the sector remain competitive in the post-quota regime. But business needs will have to be tempered with addressing the needs of the workforce. After all, the human resource can play a central role in the countrys economic development and its interests need to be safeguarded, too.