An ill-conceived move by the Karnataka government allowing the extension of working hours for women working in the IT industry in Bangalore is drawing flak both from women and IT professionals.
IT companies in Bangalore at a recent conference had adopted a resolution urging the government to extend working hours deadlines for female employees to 10 pm. Till now IT/ITeS companies were responsible for providing transport to female employees after 8 pm.
“Extending the deadline will make them responsible for providing transport only after 10 pm. This means that if a woman finishes her work at 9 pm or 9.30 pm, she would have to wait till 10 pm in the office for transport or take her own. Considering the extra responsibility that a woman has at her house and also considering the many attacks that have been carried out against women in Bangalore after 8pm, such a move would be extremely dangerous,” said an activist with ITHI, a women employees forum working in the IT/ITeS sector.
BPO/IT/ITeS companies in Bangalore are registered under the Karnataka Shops and Establishments Act, 1961. The Act clearly specifies that women should not be employed after 8pm. However, in 2002, the state government amended the Act to enable female workers to work in the IT sector during night shifts provided that the companies took full responsibility for the transportation and security of their female workers.
As a result, all IT-BPO companies now provide transportation to/from the workplace to women employees who work in the US shifts (i.e. login after 8 pm) and those who work in UK shifts (i.e. logout around 9.00 – 9.30 pm). In spite of this, the gruesome rape and murder of 28-year-old BPO employee, Pratibha Srikanthamurthy, by a cab driver who came to pick her from home for her night shift took place in December 2005. Incidents such as this, have further emphasised the need for proper security measures for female employees who work late or in night shifts. Instead of improving security measures to avoid such tragedies in the future, several major IT/ITES organisations approached the state labour department requesting a change in the Act so as to extend the time limit from 8 pm to 10 pm.
“If the current deadline for women employees is extended to 10 pm, then the companies would no longer be responsible for their safety and transportation if they work in office till 10 pm. The biggest casualty in this would be those women whose timings end between 8pm and 10pm, especially those who work in UK shifts whose usual shift ends around 9.30pm,” an online petition bu ITHI and ITEC (IT & ITeS Employee Centre), a welfare support forum of IT/ITeS profe, has argued.
The Indian BPO/IT industry currently gets around 20-30 per cent of its work and revenue from contracts from the UK. Employees who work on these projects will be affected through increased transportation costs and dangers to personal security. Currently, due to the deadline of 11.30 pm for commercial establishments in Bangalore, the streets become deserted by 11pm. This renders women vulnerble to both petty crimes (like chain-snatching, robbery etc) as well as serious ones (like molestation, rape, murder, etc), the petition contended.
The online petition on Change.org can be accessed here