Ahead of the festivities of Onam, women who work as salespersons in textile shops complained of harsh conditions at work – including no breaks and dearth of clean toilets around shopping complexes
Women in Kerala who work in the informal sector have now won the ‘right to sit’ and take breaks. The victory comes after women formed a collective and fought a hard battle.
Ahead of the festivities of Onam, women who work as salespersons in textile shops complained of harsh conditions at work – including no breaks and dearth of clean toilets around the shopping complexes. They said the working conditions weren’t conducive for their health with them getting varicose veins from standing all day and Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) from dirty toilets.
A woman’s collective called Penkootu claimed that it was the first to bring the issue to the government’s notice back in 2010. The collective found that commercial buildings had been constructed without toilets, which happen to be a necessity; the area which was originally planned to be allotted to toilets was converted into an extra shop or storage area during construction.
P Viji from the Penkootu collective told the Times of India, “The shop owners, including the Kerala merchants’ union, had said if people wanted to sit or use the toilet, they should just sit at home. That really made us angry and we started the iruppu samaram [right to sit]".
Since the collective was not a registered union, the state had refused to engage with them. That is when the aggrieved women formed a union called Asanghadita Mekhala Tozhilali Union (AMTU) led by P Viji, and raised concerns for women working in the unorganized sector.
After similar protests were launched across Kerala, the political leadership in Alappuzha stepped in and now labour laws are being amended through government notification, the Times of India has reported.
The Kerala Shops and Commercial Establishments Act Amendment was formulated to prevent sexual exploitation and provide a more secure environment, especially for women working at shops, hotels and restaurants. It will now include a clause to ensuring women’s right to sit during working hours and take breaks.State labour commissioner K Biju announced that the notification will be out by the end of week, and that people working in the unorganized sector will have better working conditions and a better pay by Onam.