published Sept. 1, 2020, 2:48 a.m. by mariamagboola
Women in Southern India gain the ‘right to sit’ at work
Women in developing nations face all sorts of discrimination; just as in Southern state of Kerala India where women employed as shop attendants did not have the right to sit down while at work. A women organization led the struggle which freed these women from this obnoxious treatment.
Hitherto these women, who work in retail shops where textiles or jewelries are sold whose jobs require displaying the items to customers are not allowed to sit, go to toilets or lean against the wall even when customers are not around. If they are caught by their employers, they will be surcharged.
Maya Devi worked in a shop that sold textiles - her job involved pulling out and displaying rolls of fabric, including saris, picked out by customers who wanted a closer look. But, she says, she could never sit while she was at work. "We were not allowed to sit even when there were no customers inside the shop," she recalls.
She also says she could not take a toilet break. Ms Devi's experience is not unusual.
An Indian women union which took on a multinational company to court on this issue won the case; thus liberating other women working under the same condition.
The government has said that it would amend the relevant labour laws to grant workers the right to take a seat. "Things which were not supposed to happen are happening," says a senior official in the labour department."So, we have now framed the rules for women to compulsorily sit and to be given adequate time to go to the toilet."
The new rules say that women must be given toilet breaks as well as access to a toilet. Shop owners can be fined if they violate the rules, according to the official.
"This is not something unique to Kerala," said a woman union leader. "It happens in other states as well." Women make up a majority of the workforce in commercial retail shops but they are often unprotected by the law.
Working conditions can be poor, wages paltry and benefits scanty. They do not receive benefits on health etc. Only seven percent of Indians work in jobs with full benefits, according to some estimates.