Ahmedabad: In an important ruling, the Gujarat High Court on Friday held that women can be employed in night shifts, and the provision in Factories Act, 1948 which bars it is unconstitutional.
Section 66 (1)(b) of the Factories Act prohibits industrial units from employing women from 7 pm to 6am.
The division bench of Chief Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya and Justice J B Pardiwala said the section is in breach of fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 14 (right to equality) and 21 (right to life and liberty) of the Constitution, so it was invalid.
The constitutional validity of Sec 66 (1) (b) had been challenged by Balaji Wafers Company, on the ground that the section discriminated on the basis of gender.
Mahila Utkarsh Trust, an NGO based in Amreli district`s Damnagar town, had also challenged the provision as some of the women in the area were denied employment by ginning factories citing the Factory Act. The court had clubbed the two petitions.
The Madras High Court has earlier ruled Section 66 (1)(b) as constitutionally invalid while the Kerala High Court ruled that it was a valid provision.
Court today quoted both these judgements as well as the Supreme Court ruling that has said that women can be employed even at a place in night shifts where alcoholic beverages are served.
The court observed that women now work even at the grassroot level, as in police or other government duties.
"The section does not allow even a female entrepreneur who owns the factory to supervise her own staff during the night shift because the Act does not provide for it. In that case, she will be forced to employ a male supervisor for the night shift or she will have to shut down the night shifts in the factory," the court said today.
It is the state`s duty to ensure safety of female workers in a factory. Even modalities with the help of factory owners can be worked out but safety cannot alone be the grounds for not allowing women to work during the night.
"Factory owners should ensure safety and welfare of the women with adequate arrangements. Transportation facility for such workers should be provided to them," the court said.
Mahila Utkarsh Trust`s petition said as most male members had migrated to other places for work, women needed jobs. They had to do the household chores during the day, so they looked for jobs in the night shift.
Balaji Wafers contended that "employability" of women was higher in the food processing industry, as it involves cooking. "We have 380 women out of total strength of 550. Our demand to extend the working hours for women till 10pm was also rejected by state government. Therefore, we challenged the same in High Court," said Bhavesh Choksi, its lawyer.