Indian Laws on Women's Safety in Night Shifts
The article 'Indian Laws on Women's Safety in Night Shifts' by Sukriti Verma critically analyzes the various aspects of the night shifts and laws governing them for the safety of women internationally and locally.
The article 'Indian Laws on Women's Safety in Night Shifts' by Sukriti Verma critically analyzes the various aspects of the night shifts and laws governing them for the safety of women internationally and locally. The laws are definitely better than before as they are reflecting the ideas of the Constitution of India. Judiciary has been a strongly held pillar of democracy to honour the fundamental freedoms enshrined by the Constitution. The article will also set out the factors that women must consider before taking up a job that involves night shifts, as this can be health hazardous.
Developed nations all around the world are active throughout the day and the night. Since Liberalization, India is also progressing towards the same working culture. As India is walking towards a 30-trillion-dollar economy in the next 30 years. The aspect that is in the limelight of this article is safety. However, the night remains more dangerous than the day in terms of safety.
Predators seem to be unleashed in the night. Henceforth, the working environment for women has to be safe irrespective of whatever time it is. Women need to feel safe at their workplace as well as on their commuting routes. Women have always fought for their rights from being treated as slaves to equal voting rights irrespective of assets they hold. As of now, we have a special legislature along with a General Statutory Framework for women's safety in the workplace known as the Sexual Harassment of Women at Work Place (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (POSH Act).
Women Working in Nightshifts: International Experience
Internationally, in some countries, there was a general prohibition by virtue of Article 3 of the following convention on the night work of women, irrespective of age, in all industrial undertakings. These states were under the Convention of the International Labour Organization, namely the Night Work (Women) Convention (Revised), 1948 (No. 89) such as Algeria, Angola, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Burundi, Cameroon, Comoros, Congo, Costa Rica, Egypt, Ghana, Eswatini, Guatemala, Guinea, Iraq, Kenya, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malawi, Mauritania, Pakistan, Paraguay, Romania, Saudi Arabia. Senegal, Serbia, South Africa, UAE. India was also a part of this convention from 27 February 1950 but later adopted the following lenient version of the convention.
After the abovesaid convention came the convention of Protocol of 1990 to the Night Work (Women) Convention (Revised), 1948, wherein the General Prohibition was lifted and then it was declared by virtue of Article 1, which says,
"National laws or regulations, adopted after consulting the most representative organizations of employers and workers, may provide that variations in the duration of the night period."
But this shall be subject to the conditions on pregnancy given in Article 2. India is a part of this Convention, along with Madagascar, and Tunisia.
Women in the Night Shift: Indian Scenario
The Constitution of India under Article 14 lays down the right to be treated equally and an environment free from discrimination. This is a Fundamental Right Provision and shall override all such other provisions, which may cause discrimination against women. So, in lieu of this provision section 66(1)(b) of the Factories Act, 1948 which imposed a general restriction on the employment of women on the night shift was declared as ultra-vires in the case of K.S. Triveni v. Union of India, Ministry of Labour. Hence this provision was held unconstitutional and struck down in the year 2000 in the case of R. Vasantha v. Union of India.
Not only after the ratification of the 1990 protocol to the Night Work (Women) Convention (Revised), 1948 but even before Independence, the general prohibition was questioned in the case of Ram Chand v. Mathura Chand, wherein it was held that the inspector has no right to issue a general prohibition against the employment of women at night without going into the question whether the staff is sufficient, however, it was said that it is the discretion of the inspector to allow a woman to work in night shifts if he deems it fit. But he cannot make a General Prohibition on it.
The Factories Act, of 1948 provides for the prohibition of women from dangerous operations under section 87 i.e. from the specified manufacturing process or operation. But that cannot be said to be discriminatory as it is enacted after considering the medical/ physical competencies and the view of her value of life.
The safety of the woman has also to be taken into consideration while employing her for a night shift, her route to the workplace and way back home also needs to be secured. To ensure a safe work environment the POSH Act, 2013 was enacted which lays down the duties of the employer under section 19 to prevent all kinds of sexual harassment. It also has a provision for compulsorily setting up an internal complaints committee that shall deal with the grievances of the harassed women worker (under section 4) and where she can file a complaint against the harasser (under section 9). The Act provides for paid leave up to to 3 months to the aggrieved woman and can also transfer her or the harasser to any other workplace (under section 12).
According to Section 14 of the Delhi Shops and Commercial Establishment Act, 1954,
"No woman shall be allowed or required to work whether as an employee or otherwise in any establishment between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. during the summer season and between 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. during the winter season."
However, this depends on state to state. For Example, The Punjab Shops And Commercial Establishments Act of 1958 prohibits the employment of women at night shifts. However, recently, the Haryana Government, by a notification dated June 7, 2022, has entailed certain conditions on employers who have women employees working during night shifts (i.e., between 07:00 PM and 6:00 AM).
Social Problems faced by the Women
Whatever we say about the society that we are progressing and approaching broader and wider thinking, it still remains an act of shame in the so-called patriarchal society. Her character is questioned time and again without any reason. The women working the night shifts remain deprived of daytime privileges, because of the work at night, one has to sleep during the day. Women are also not able to spend time with their loved ones and families. This way she remains cut off from the other people. For example, if the spouse of a woman working during the day and she works at night, there might be a scenario in which they never even see each other.
The most important aspect is that the women feel insecure while travelling for the night shift and also during the work hours of the night shift. Thereby feeling insecure half of the time day affects the women's mental health, reducing their productivity and efficiency, and causes depression. The main cause of this is the increasing number of crime scenes happening around metropolitan cities, like the Nirbhaya Rape Case, Pratibha Murder Case, etc.
Night shift work and risk of breast cancer in female employees
In 2020, 2,261,419 new cases of Breast cancer were detected. It is a multifactorial disease, however, the pathological developments have very less to explain the aetiology of the disease. It is being said individual, environmental and occupational factors contribute to the disease. However, the most common factor is the hereditary genetic mutations of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.
It is being contended in the report that another reason for it is the Lifestyle. If women are working the night shift obviously their Lifestyles are getting affected to a very large extent and which in turn is causing a lack of physical activity, high Body Mass Index (BMI), stressed induced high consumption of alcohol and cigarettes. White women exhibit the highest incidence of Breast Cancer, followed by Black, Asian and Hispanic women.
Occupational exposure to rotating or night shifts could lead to the onset of tumours, which can be said by looking at the monograph published by the IARC on the evaluation of carcinogenic risks to humans.
"The inhibition of night melatonin secretion along with sleep deprivation and chronodisruption is suggested to be a crucial mechanism by which artificial light at night could contribute to BC development."
The study suggested preferring the rotation of shifts in 'phase delay' (Morning/Afternoon/Night), which will help in supporting the natural biological circadian rhythms, which will cause the shifts to scatter by at least 11 h intervals between one shift and the next, thereby improving recovery time from any sleep loss and fatigue.
Drawbacks of nightshifts on health
There is plenty number of disadvantages to working the night shift. Starting from a disturbed sleep schedule, to feeling lazy throughout the day, dizziness, headaches, and loss of appetite. The night shift disrupts the body's circadian rhythms, also called the circadian misalignment or the 24-hour internal "clock" that controls our sleep-wake cycles. A study was conducted by a team of researchers led by Dr. Sarah Chellappa, (the University of Cologne in Germany), Dr. Frank A.J.L. Scheer (Harvard Medical School), and Brigham & Women's Hospital on whether the timing of meals could prevent night shift's adverse effects on blood sugar. So, after testing 17 participants, it was found that another consequence that cannot be ignored is the increased risk of developing diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. The reason behind this is that if you eat during the night, the body loses its ability to process sugar and glucose.
In another research study conducted by the Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry of India ASSOCHAM and funded by NCW India. It was found that the employees of the night shift felt the following, 30% of them felt Backaches, 45% felt continual tiredness, 50% felt digestive orders, 37.5% felt Anger & Irritation, 60% felt Sleep difficulty, 15% felt strains and sprains, 10% felt frequent cold and headaches, 55% of them felt high blood pressure, 60% felt menstrual problems. 15% felt depression, 45% felt Respiratory illness, 35% felt pregnancy-related problems, and 45% felt general illness.
Suggestions pertaining to tackling safety issues in women from the point of view of the Government, ensure that there is CCTV installed at the workplace and take up stringent measures to ensure that it is in working condition.
Suggestions pertaining to tackling safety issues in women from the point of view of the woman would be to carry pepper spray in case anyone tries to messes up with the woman worker, don't lose hope, and try to escape even if you have the slightest chance of someone has confined you, if something bad has happened report it and do not try to hide it, hiding will only make you suffer more.
To detect the risk of breast cancer, there is a test that can be done by healthcare professionals in order to determine whether you are prone to the disease and if you are, then the doctors advise you to refrain from taking up jobs that have night shifts. The professional can give the solution as it depends on person to person.
The night shift for a woman has more cons than pros, it is deliberated by the patriarchal society that women should not take up jobs that have night shifts. However, women should not entertain such rigidities of society and try to live the life they want. However, they must keep the health, social, and safety issues in mind and prepare themselves for the upcoming challenges until the world becomes a safer place to live. On the other hand, the government must not sit with its hands crossed and try to take as many measures as possible to ensure their safety rather than putting restrictions on them and curbing their freedoms.
As people of this planet and for humanity, we must make this place a safer place for anyone to live in.
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 Women's health and night shift work: Potential targets for future strategies in breast cancer (Review), Available Here
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