Pandemic Can Bring Home Opportunity For Women's Prosperity

India has the chance of using the work protocols due to pandemic to boost women's participation in the workforce, which stand at a miserly 18 percent.


With many offices now forced to shift to work from home, thousands of women are now getting a chance to balance their work and family life more flexibly. The larger question is: Can India Inc. and the government seize this opportunity to recast the work culture for women?

India has the chance of using the work protocols due to pandemic to boost women's participation in the workforce, which stand at a miserly 18 percent.

More often than not, nothing more than deep-rooted insecurities stand in the way. Corporate surveys show that shifting a majority of jobs to work from home have actually boosted productivity. Clients too are more willing to accommodate Work from Home services in fields like Information Technology. While a complete shift may not be possible for all industries such as manufacturing, even a partial reallocation may turn out to be a win-win. 

Overcoming Legal Barriers

Under the Constitution of India, labour laws fall within the concurrent list that gives power to both the central and state governments to legislate on such items. There are 416 Labour Laws and Rules between the Centre, States and Union Territories leading to 278 different filings and approximately 1,000 different formats of Registers.

An organisation is therefore required to maintain statutory records under a plethora of acts that regulate hours of work, payment of wages, leaves, holidays and various other conditions. The underlying assumption is that an employee will be at a fixed office address and not provide for remote working.

Therefore, the first step in a labour law overhaul will need to recognise the option of providing flexible working hours. That may mean instead of a straight 8-hour shift, an employee can work with a break or perhaps for 6 hours on weekdays and then have the opportunity to compensate for work over weekends.

Our labour laws should provide new ways for recording leave and marking attendance for maintaining statutory registers. They may also simplify the need for maintaining such records, but at the same time provide for sufficient deterrence against any company looking to dismiss an employee on flimsy grounds.

One of the biggest fears of employees amid work from home is quick redundancy on flimsy grounds, a subject where normally the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 provides clear protection. These provisions now need to be strengthened in light of remote working more than ever.

Such nagging concerns should not lead to institutionalizing a body shop culture, wherein work extends to all hours and destroys the sanctity of personal space. Nor should the new work paradigm deprive employees of their entitled casual leave, sick leave and maternity leaves. 

The Maternity Benefit Act 1961, which prohibits discrimination based on the maternity status of a female employee. Global companies actively encourage employees to take their apportioned leave as fatigue and burnout benefits no one. 

If an employee is able to deliver on their work commitments, why should it matter whether the person resides close to office or not. However, in a remote work arrangement, organizations will also need to effectively maintain records for overtime and statutory payments. 

There will be no scope to compromise on employees contribution under the Provident Funds Act and Gratuity. Any enquiries that are needed may be allowed on digital platforms. If court hearings can be conducted through video proceedings, why not such enquiries ?

Dismantle Vintage Work Culture

No matter what kind of policy or legal reforms are brought in, the heart of the problem will remain unless there is a change in our antiquated mindset. In a developing country like India, women have always been engaged in unpaid work from home, whether in farms or supporting family businesses.

Traditional work from home has always existed, but in the lowest of categories such as stitching garments or bottling pickles. The Skills India program have advanced women's job training, but this now needs to be expanded on a war-footing to end gender discrimination and advance the economy.

With the pandemic shining the spotlight on the rural economy, the government has recognised the need to create more skilled work opportunities in villages. Food processing, warehousing and cultivation of specialised farm produce are being seen as engines for inclusive growth.

But the scope for such inclusiveness needs to be broadened beyond integrating farms in the economic reforms process. With one of the world's youngest workforce, India  already has an edge over rival economies. 

By establishing wider participation of women in the skilled workforce across the nation, India will be able to consolidate the strength of its demography in a more meaningful way. This could be an impetus for a social and economic revolution in our patriarchal society.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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