While the discourse on the Model Shops and Establishments Act is gathering momentum among shop and commercial establishment owners in Kerala, Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR) is conducting discussions throughout Kerala to ensure dissemination of information and public participation. In the latest discussion held at the Kerala Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Kochi, on August 4, 2017, CPPR engaged with shop owners and employers, who were members of the chamber.
Among the many concerns expressed by the participants, the prominent concern was that of arranging transportation for women employees, who chose to work on nightshifts. Lack of transportation facilities could be a deterrent to employing women on nightshifts, they said. When the idea of shared transportation facilities arranged by a group of employers or through co-op societies emerged at the discussion, some participants said that such shared facilities could be implemented in metros or urban areas and not in rural areas.
The participants said that potential women employees from rural areas could be prevented from entering the night-time workforce because of social and cultural constructs. A woman participant stated that this was a common problem among women employees in Kerala. She added that while women agreed to work overtime or nightshifts, when they were employed outside their hometowns, women working in their hometowns showed little to no interest in overtime or nightshifts. In view of the security of women employees and shops, the participants were keen to know about the law and order enforcement, if shops ran 24/7.
While the participants hoped that the terms and conditions of leaves and holidays would be open to discussion between the employees and the employers, they raised an alarm regarding the existing welfare schemes. The employee can access the welfare fund set up by the government only after five years. Since many small-shop employees quit their jobs in less than five years, the fund becomes inaccessible, rendering the employer’s contribution fruitless. The participants suggested that these funds should be made available to the employee at the time of leaving the workforce or refunded to the employer with or without interest.
While proposing that any registrations and payments should be made through online means for clutter-free functioning and convenient record-keeping, some of the participants questioned the rationale and practicality of the existing Wage Protection System (WPS), which poses a burden on small shops that are not always able to provide wages at the time stipulated by WPS.
Nevertheless, the participants unanimously agreed that the act was indeed progressive and provided more economic freedom to the employers, while empowering the women workforce. However, when asked whether the act would encourage the employers to keep their shops open to the public 24/7, the participants replied that more clarity was needed on the act.
Sara John (Project Associate, CPPR) gave the presentation on the Model Shops and Establishment Act. Anthony Thomas (Vice Chairman, KCCI) inaugurated the event. A Rajan IAS (retd) (Secretary, KCCI) delivered the welcome address.