A notice issued by the management of Kerala Lakshmi Mills said that only those women who are willing to work in three shift rotation will be entitled to receive benefits like a permanent appointment, promotion, seniority, etc.

In response to this notice, the Kerala High Court ruled that women who are not willing to do night shifts cannot be debarred from promotions or seniority. Jancy KF and 14 other workers of Kerala Lakshmi Mills at Pullazhi in Thrissur filed a petition in the court regarding the notice issued by their management. Justice SV Bhatti considered this petition and ruled that women who do not want to work in the night shifts cannot be denied seniority or promotions. The workers belong to National Textile Corporation.

The court also added that for women who willing to work in the night shifts, the organisation will have to provide proper safety measures.

In the court, the petitioners sought an assurance that the factory management cannot compel them to work post 7 pm, as stipulated in Section 66 of the Factories Act. They also directed that their emoluments shouldn’t be affected on this basis. In response to this, Lakshmi Mills filed a statement that after receiving the court’s notice, they have amended their rules and the women workers will now be working only till 10 pm. They also made it clear that the notice just had a clause that those working in night shifts will be given preference over others when it comes to promotions.

The petitioners, however, argued that the matters of seniority and promotions are governed by service regulations of National Textile Corporations. This doesn’t depend upon whether someone works at night or not. The court in its judgment said, “The learned counsel for respondents (Kerala Laksmi mills and its management) has read the condition in Ext. P2 and also the statement made by the respondents 2 and 3 along with the court, but is unable to satisfy the court that the condition now imposed can have a legal semblance. Therefore, it is clear that the condition in Ext P2 cannot be treated as a guideline, either for seniority or promotion, while determining the service condition for employees. In other words, the women employees who do not opt to work in night shifts are not denied either seniority or promotion because they opted to work in the morning shift.”

The petitioners, however, argued that the matters of seniority and promotions are governed by service regulations of National Textile Corporations. This doesn’t depend upon whether someone works at night or not.

The court also added that for the women who are willing to work in the night shifts, the organisation will have to provide proper safety measures. In fact, A bill which is likely to be introduced in the on-going session of the parliament says that the “Security and Dignity” of a woman worker is paramount. As per the bill, 6 am to 7 pm is the time when the employer can ask a woman to work, i.e., working hours for the women can be only between 6 am to 7 pm. If the employer asks the woman to work beyond these hours, he has to ensure her safety. Moreover, also on a holiday, the employer cannot ask the woman to work. However, if there’s urgency, even then the safety of the woman has to be ensured by the employer.

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