‘Right to sit’ still a dream for textile shop employees

Kozhikode, Kerala, 15/12/2019:CITY MATTERS:The sales girl who wlecomes the customers at the door of every textile shop maintains that position for almost nine hours.Photo;S.RAMESH KURUP/THE HINDU.   | Photo Credit: S_RAMESHKURUP

More than a year after the Government of Kerala amended the Kerala Shops and Establishments Act upholding the rights of women employees in the unorganised sector, including their right to sit during long working hours, most textile shop employees in Kozhikode city are yet to avail the said rights.

While the law calls for dignified working conditions for labourers, the saleswomen in textile shops have restricted access to lavatory and are often denied breaks. They are dismissed for flimsy reasons, often for ratting it out to Labour Department officials.

Indefinite strike

It was just a month ago that the employees of a popular textile network in Kozhikode city launched an indefinite strike at one of the outlets against the management for expelling some of the employees, after they had demanded masks to protect themselves from the dust that emanated while handling old stock of clothes at the shop’s warehouse. Though the issue was amicably settled later, the remaining employees are still denied their rights and are afraid to speak up.


District Labour Officer (Enforcement) V.P. Rajan, who has been holding regular inspections at textile shops in the city over the last one month after some employees raised complaints, said “I did not find any anomalies anywhere I visited. There were seats for the employees in all shops, but they were not sitting. The management claimed that nobody was stopping the employees from sitting. However, none of the employees raised a complaint.”

The employees maintained that they were helpless. “How can we speak up against our management when Labour Department officials are often accompanied by our general manager,” asked one of the employees. “It was just a few weeks ago that one of us was expelled after she told the Labour Officer that the seats were brought in just the previous night after the management got a whiff of the officer’s visit,” added the employee.

The Asanghatitha Meghala Thozhilali Union (AMTU), an all-women trade union comprising mainly employees of textile shops based in Kozhikode, has been conducting the campaign for the right to sit over the last few years and the amendment to the Act was largely a result of their struggle. Even after the amendment, the AMTU has carried out awareness campaigns among shopowners regarding the rights of employees. “The small shops are complying to a great extent. It is the bigger establishments that we are at loggerheads with,” said AMTU State president P. Viji.

She said the managements often did an eyewash for the sake of Department officials by making seating arrangements during inspections and removing them later.

“The chairs from the cafeteria were brought it for an inspection at our shop last time,” said an employee. One shop showed off fixed high chairs as seating arrangements for employees while they were actually meant to keep the belongings of customers. “It is too uncomfortable to sit on such high chairs. It is plain and simple — the management does not expect us to sit,” she added.

Ms. Viji said the recent amendment to the Act would not be properly implemented unless the Labour Department officials were more alert.

“They need to hear the employees individually and impose the designated fine for violations,” said Ms. Viji. Meanwhile, the Labour Officer said lightning inspections would continue and CCTV footage from shops would be checked periodically to ensure that there were no issues.

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Printable version | Jun 16, 2021 6:24:05 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kozhikode/right-to-sit-still-a-dream-for-textile-shop-employees/article30314320.ece

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