While disposing of the petition filed by women employees of Sitaram Textile Mill at Thrissur questioning the management's decision to make women employees work during night shifts, the Kerala High Court held that women employees will work only till 10 pm. It was also alleged in the petition that the management didn’t yield to the demand of not fixing night shifts for the women employees. The women employees argued that asking them to work at night is in contravention of Section 66(1) (b) of Factories Act, 1948. Notably, the cited section reads as follows:
“No woman shall be 1[required or allowed to work in any factory] except between the hours of 6 A.M. and 7 P.M.: Provided that the State Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, in respect of 2[any factory or group or class or description of factories,] vary the limits laid down in clause (b), but so that no such variation shall authorize the employment of any woman between the hours of 10 P.M. and 5 A.M.; 3[(c) there shall be no change of shifts except after a weekly holiday or any other holiday.]”
State government informed the court that the 7pm deadline as per the Act was extended until 10pm by it using its discretionary powers in this respect. By allowing this, strict conditions were laid down to ensure safety of the women, government told the court. Various conditions were also submitted before the court, such that vehicle facility for the women to reach their houses, presence of a minimum of five workers including two women in a shift, and no work beyond nine hours including rest time.
The court ruled that women cannot be asked to work late night shifts beyond 10 pm till 6 am in the morning by strictly following the circular released by the labour department dated July 16, 2003 meant for industries such as textiles, weaving, bakeries, printing presses, milk and related products, latex, food processing, and electronics.