Working Women Labour Laws

Women are known to work on farms, in road and housing construction, and of late, in factories manufacturing garments and electronic assembly plants. Skilled women workers also have been working in traditional village industries either as self employed or as paid workers. In hill areas, search for forest products including fuel wood engages a fairly large number of women. The majority of women work in the unorganized sector for low wages and at low levels of skills. The number of women workers during the last four decades has more than doubled from 40 million to 90 million. Women constitute a significant part of the workforce in India but they lag behind men in terms of work participation and quality of employment. According to Government sources, out of 407 million total workforce, 90 million are women workers, largely employed (about 87 percent) in the agricultural sector as laborers and cultivators.

Employment opportunities and wage disparity

In India, as in many developing countries, gender inequality persists in terms of women participation in labour force, lower wages and salaries of women and access to resources. The percentage share of female population in total population in India is around 48%, while the work participation rate of females is only 26% as compared to 52% in males. About 24.9% of women in rural areas and about 14.8% of women in urban areas were in the workforce in India during 2004-05 (UNCTAD report).

In urban areas, on an average wage/salary paid to females is only 75% of that paid to males, while in rural areas females are paid 58% of what is paid to the males. This wage disparity differs across sectors and education levels.

Applicability of Labour laws for women

In addition to the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 almost all the major central labour laws are applicable to women workers. The Equal Remuneration Act was passed in 1976, providing for the payment of equal remuneration to men and women workers for same or similar nature of work. Under this law, no discrimination is permissible in recruitment and service conditions except where employment of women is prohibited or restricted by the law. The situation regarding enforcement of the provisions of this law is regularly monitored by the Central Ministry of Labour and the Central Advisory Committee. In respect of occupational hazards concerning the safety of women at workplaces, in 1997 the Supreme Court of India in the case of Vishakha Vs. State of Rajasthan [(1997) 6 SCC 241] held that sexual harassment of working women amounts to violation of rights of gender equality. As a logical consequence it also amounts to violation of the right to practice any profession, occupation, and trade. The judgment also laid down the definition of sexual harassment, the preventive steps, the complaint mechanism, and the need for creating awareness of the rights of women workers. Implementation of these guidelines has already begun by employers by amending the rules under the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946.


Sexual harassment is a serious criminal offense which can destroy human dignity and freedom. In an effort to promote the well being of all woman employees at the work place the following code of conduct has been prescribed :-

1. It shall be duty of the employer to prevent or deter the commission of any act of sexual harassment at the work place.
2. Sexual harassment will include such unwelcome sexually determined behavior by any person either individually or in association with other persons or by any person in authority whether directly or by implication.

Complaints Committee: The Complaints Committee shall take immediate necessary action to cause an enquiry to be made discreetly or hold an enquiry, if necessary. 14. The Complaints Committee shall after examination of the complaint submit its recommendations to the head of the organisation recommending the penalty to be imposed.

Disciplinary Action: Where the conduct of an employee amounts to misconduct in employment as defined in the relevant service rules the employer should initiate appropriate disciplinary action in accordance with the relevant rules.

Annual Report: The Complaints Committee shall prepare an Annual Report giving a full account of its activities during the previous year and forward a copy thereof to the Head of the Organisation concerned who shall forward the same to the government department concerned with its comments.

Savings: Nothing contained in this code shall prejudice any right available to the employee or prevent any person from seeking any legal remedy under the National Commission for Women Act 1990, Protection of Human Rights Commission Act 1993 or under any other law for the time being in force. Where such conduct amounts to a specific offence under the Indian Penal Code or under any other law, the employer shall initiate appropriate action in accordance with law by making a complaint with the appropriate authority. In particular, it should ensure that victims or witnesses are not victimized or discriminated against while dealing with complaints of sexual harassment. The victims of sexual harassment should have the option to seek transfer of the perpetrator or their own transfer.