by Suresh D, E-SOCHARA | May 2016
A Study on Women at Work Place by CANG
Civil society organisations of Tamil Nadu have taken multiple efforts to address issues like gender inequity including female literacy, employment opportunity, female infanticide, sex ratio etc., in their own ways including community level work, criticising the government policies and advocating for gender sensitive policies.
Campaign Against Negligence of Girl Child (CANG) is one of the vibrant networks in Tamil Nadu, which has been working consistently on the rights of girl child. Rights of the women and girls are a social issue set within the caste system and patriarchal nature of Tamil society. CANG has undertaken interventions at multiple levels including working with communities and civil society organsations to build strong coalition to reduce gaps in above said issues. Over the couple of years, CANG had developed an understanding of social complexness of these issues including the impact of neo-liberal economic policies on India, its impact on the working class especially on unorganised women workers and on gender equity including sex ratio. In this context and understanding of the overall situation, CANG had initiated a study on “Women at Workplace”, with the primary aim of building a road map for long-term intervention for women workers in Tamil Nadu.
This study was done in 6 major industries having a large proportion of unorganised labour i.e., spinning mills, textiles industry, cashew nut processing units, silver anklet manufacturing industry, fireworks and small scale industries spread across in 11 districts, namely, Dharmapuri, Dindugal, Erode, Karur, Krishnagiri, Namakkal, Pudukottai, Salem,Theni, Trichy and Virudhunagar with the following objectives:
1. To understand the issues of women workers in the major industries in areas where various partner organisations work (these are garment & textile, silver ornamentals, cashew nut and fireworks) using gender, occupational health and worker’s rights lens.
2. To develop a deeper understanding of the particular sector/ industry by the partner NGO.
3. To develop a roadmap for a longer-term initiative around “women in the workplace”.
The information (both qualitative & quantitative) was collected through a set of structured questionnaires via focus group discussion and interviews of 1100 women workers (100 per district) across the various sectors.
The study highlights various forms of exploitation the female workforce is undergoing at work place. The extent of vulnerability varies from one industry to another and between different forms of employment. As rural women feel these jobs are a better option than being agriculture workers, they get into exploitative and broadly unregulated jobs. The unskilled nature of the workers aggravates the nature of exploitation. The non-literacy about the legal protection, health hazards, and labour rights added increase the vulnerability.
The study finds that the government is bending rules and regulations in the favour of industries through various ways such as Special Economic Zones to legalise those measures. The recommendation of the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised sector (NCEUS) which has advocated strongly for universal coverage was ignored by the union government when they enacted Unorganized Workers Social Security Act 2008. The lack of political will of Tamil Nadu government to enact stringent labour laws and enforce them, opened up a pandora box for the industries like cashew processing which shifted from Kerala to enjoy the loose legal environment.
Points noted were, girls/women in the age group 14-21 years are a majority (84%) of the work force; they start early at 14 years and are mostly middle and high school dropouts; 80% of them are paid in piece rate; 60% of them had reproductive tract infections; and 90% of them experienced at least more than two types of violence and harassment at workplace.
The study report was released with a set of recommendations at a state level conference held in March 2014 at Erode which was attended by all partner NGO’s. The SOCHARA-CEU team played the dual role of providing technical advice as well as solidarity support to this study from its initiation.
The recommendations are:
- The government needs to take holistic measures to implement the Minimum Wages Act across the industries on an immediate basis along with the hike demand by unions and workers, and extension of Employment State Insurance scheme benefits to all the unorganised workers along with other essential social benefits of provident fund, paid leave, double wages for extra working hours etc. as these are the core need of the workers.
- The workers need to be protected by all the sections of the society while taking measures to start trade unions in these unorganised sectors.
- Effective enforcement of acts along with necessary changes in existing acts to prevent the exploitation of labour in the name of casual, contract and daily wage mode of employment and prevention of all sorts of violence and harassments i.e., forming ‘Vishaka committees’.
- Effective implementation of community led monitoring including civil society organisations’ representation is essential to prevent the child labour effectively.
- Stringent action against the offenders and effective redressal mechanisms are vital to curb such un-civilised practices.