On January 31, 2024, the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Government of India, issued an advisory titled 'Advisory for Employers to Promote Women Workforce Participation (Gender Equality & Promoting Women's Economic Empowerment)', in furtherance of the government's ongoing commitment to achieving gender equality and empowering women economically. The advisory emphasizes the pivotal role of employers in increasing participation of women in the workforce by fostering a supportive work environment tailored to their needs. It reiterates the employers' obligations to be well informed about and adhere to existing labour laws while urging them to proactively implement policies that enhance women's access to safety, flexibility, and social security, thereby promoting gender equality and diversity in the workforce.

Existing Statutory Obligations: The statutory obligations of employers under various labour laws, which aim to establish a supportive and comfortable working environment for women inter-alia include:

  1. Statutory Provisions pertaining to providing Essential Amenities:
    1. Providing Essential Amenities: Employers are obligated to provide essential amenities for women working in factories and construction sites, including first aid facilities, clean, accessible, and separate toilets, washing facilities, accommodation for migrant workers, sitting facilities, canteens, etc.
    2. Providing Creche Facility: Employers in certain industries or employing more than a certain number of women employees are obligated to provide a creche facility to women employees, addressing the needs of their children and ensuring a convenient and supportive workspace for working mothers during their working hours.
  2. Statutory Provisions pertaining to the Health of Women:
    1. Maternity Leave and Nursing Breaks: Employers are obligated to grant paid maternity leave to women employees. Additionally, when women employees return to work, they shall be allowed nursing breaks to attend to the needs of their children.
    2. Maintenance of Cleanliness: Employers are obligated to take health measures in factories specifically catering to the well-being of women employees, including the appointment of dedicated medical practitioners, periodic health check-ups, and maintenance of cleanliness, and ventilation at the premises.
  3. Statutory Provisions Ensuring the Safety of Women:
    1. Safeguard against Sexual Harassment at Workplace: To prevent and address instances of sexual harassment at workplace, employers are required to inter alia establish an Internal Committee, frame anti-sexual harassment policies outlining the procedure and timeframe for resolution of complaints and conduct employee awareness and sensitization training sessions covering topics such as gender sensitivity, diversity and awareness regarding the acts sexual harassment at workplaces and outline the consequences of engaging in such acts.
    2. Safety while Working on Machinery: Employers are required to outline safety rules for women workers, including avoiding certain tasks near machinery, not cleaning or adjusting machinery while operating, refraining from lifting heavy objects.
    3. Safety during the Night Shift: The Government has allowed various establishments and factories to enable women to work during the night shift, subject to certain conditions, including obtaining women's consent to work during the night shift, providing pick-up and drop-off facilities, and ensuring safety measures at the premises.
  4. Statutory Provisions pertaining to Social Security Benefits to Women:
    1. Provident Funds: Both employer and eligible employees (regardless of gender) are required to make contributions to the provident fund, creating a pool of savings that can be utilized by the employee upon retirement, or in case of certain contingencies such as disability, death, etc.
    2. Medical and Cash benefits: Employees eligible under the Employees' State Insurance statute, including women and their dependents, receive various benefits, including medical and cash benefits in instances of sickness, maternity, disablement, or death.
  5. Statutory Provisions pertaining to Payment of Wages:
    1. Timely Payment of Wages: Employers are obligated to ensure regular and proper wage disbursement in compliance, thus promoting financial stability, crucial for women supporting themselves and their families.
    2. Minimum Wages: Employers are obligated to ensure payment of minimum wages to all employees (including women), adhering to the requirement of the minimum wages specified by the relevant State.
    3. Equal remuneration: Employers are prohibited from engaging in gender-based discrimination for the same or similar work performed by men and women, seeking to create a fairer workplace across various aspects, including hiring, promotions, and wage payments.
  6. Statutory Provisions pertaining to Industrial Relations:
    1. Equal Rights to Negotiation: Workers (regardless of gender) have the right to freely form trade unions, express their concerns and contribute to negotiations, fostering gender inclusivity within trade unions.
    2. Industrial Disputes: The statute governing industrial disputes safeguards the rights and interests of workers by offering detailed mechanisms for resolving industrial disputes, including provisions for job security during maternity and guidelines against discriminatory layoffs.

Labour Codes: The advisory also highlights the promising provisions of the Labour Codes aimed at ensuring that women have a meaningful role and equal participation at workplace. For instance, the Industrial Relations Code, places emphasis on fair and proportionate representation of women in the Grievance Redressal Committee of the industrial establishment. The Code on Social Security, extends social security benefits to workers working in the unorganised sector, ensuring inclusivity. Additionally, the Occupational Safety, Health, and Working Conditions Code, emphasizes creating a secure and healthy working environment, considering unique health considerations of women, and allowing women to work during the night shift, subject to their consent, and obligating employer to provide transportation facility.

General Advisory: To create an inclusive workplace and eradicate gender-based discrimination or biases, the advisory underscores the importance of promoting an even-handed allocation of caregiving responsibilities between men and women for their children and dependents. To achieve this objective, employers are encouraged to implement family-friendly measures such as providing gender-neutral creche breaks, paternity leaves, parental leaves, family emergency leaves and flexibility to work remotely so that they can participate in care responsibilities, while maintaining their professional contributions. The advisory also calls on employers to address gender pay gap by reviewing pay structures and eliminating discrimination in the matters pertaining to job advertisements, recruitment, promotion, and performance reviews. Furthermore, employers are encouraged to support women in management and leadership roles within companies to enhance diversity of thought for better decision-making. Every employer should reassess procurement practices to boost businesses led by women in the value chain and provide support service facilities like business development services and networking. MSME employers should collaborate to build shared working facilities/ dormitories/working women hostels with creche/senior care facilities, particularly in urban and semi urban areas, reducing travel time for women workers.

Conclusion: By focusing on the crucial role of employers, the advisory aims to bring about a mindset shift. This shift serves as a call to action for employers to take a central role in shaping workplaces that are not only diverse but also inclusive and equitable for women.

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