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Standing ovation to sit down

Posted July 6th, 2018, 10:30 AM IST

Standing ovation to sit down

After a long struggle, it’s finally Mayadevi’s moment to celebrate. The protest led by a group of women to get some basic amenities at work has resulted in a significant victory. The amendment of the Kerala Shop and Commercial Establishment Act 1960 has now made it mandatory that the sales staff at textile shops should be allowed to sit during duty hours. The penalty for not obeying these rules has also been increased to Rs 1 lakh. Mayadevi, along with five of her colleagues, had led the 70-day protest against textile giant Kalyan Silks. They demanded better pay, the permission to sit at their respective counters, and the right to use the washroom whenever required. She sounds excited and relieved when she says, “I am happy that our protests have been worth it. Even though we are still bearing the aftermath of the protest, we are glad that the textile shop that employed us and our friends will now ease their strict norms.”

Elaborating on the issue, Mayadevi says, “We just wanted to exercise our rights to sit and use the washroom. We were not allowed to sit even if there are no customers at our counters. Moreover, going to the washroom was like a grave offence. Many of my co-workers suffer from varicose veins even at the age of 30. Uterus-related issues too are common. We used to pull down the things kept at the lower racks and then sit down and organise them. At least then we could sit for a few minutes. But I am happy that things will change now.” There have been similar protests by the staff of other textile shops too.

Commenting on it, advocate Anima Muyarath, who has been with these women throughout the protest says, “It’s good that the Act has been amended. However, I cannot comment on it unless I read the Act and know what the exact changes are. In 2014 also, the protests had led the government to make amendments. But even then the employees could sit in the restroom during the break time only. It is absolutely ridiculous. It is the fundamental right of a person to sit whenever he/she feels like. How would these lawmakers or shop owners feel if they had to wait for a prescribed time in order to sit, or even urinate? If the new amendment allows the employees to sit at their counters, it is a great relief. This can be considered as a victory for The Asanghatitha Meghala Thozhilali Union (AMTU).”
Anima adds that the attitude of the owners towards these basic complaints reflects poorly on them.

Backing the statement, Ratheesh, who works at a renowned textile shop in Kottayam, says, “After employing us, these people are very insensitive towards our problems. I feel very sad when pregnant women and others, who are in intense pain during their menstruation, are made to stand like mannequins at the entrances of the shops. Moreover, women employees also have to help the customers try on sarees; this makes the wedding season very hectic. Sometimes these women have to stand all day without having their food. I hope the amendment brings relief to all of us.” However, Arathy Sunil, who works in one of the leading textile shops in Ernakulam, feels the condition of the employees will never change. “According to the amendment, the owners might provide chairs but the truth of the matter is none of the employees are going to sit. They are constantly under camera surveillance and they fear their bosses will reprimand them on a daily basis. It is better to stand rather than getting scolded every day.”
Anima is of the opinion that the owners and the union should understand that the employees, if allowed to sit and use the washrooms, will only be happier. This, in turn, would improve their efficiency levels, which, in the long run, will prove beneficial for the shop.