(Written by Rutvi Vadera & Shuchi Shah)
The state government will table a new Shops and Establishments Act, which will allow establishments to remain open 24X7, double-overtime wages and restrict night shifts for women in the Gujarat Assembly, the session for which begins next week. The amendments to the Act were proposed to improve ease of doing business and boost employment in the service sector.
Under the amended laws, shops and eateries will be allowed to remain open round-the-clock and will not have to renew their registration every year as was mandated under the existing law. Owners of eateries have broadly welcomed the move, especially of scrapping the annual renewal of registrations. But most women The Sunday Express spoke to are not in favour of banning night shifts.
“The move will benefit people whose only capital is hard work. It is a win-win scenario for both government and the businesses. It will add to the exchequer’s revenue, boost employment and increase productivity of businesses,” said Vijay Gupta, founder of the Honest chain of restaurants. Honest, is among those outlets in Gujarat that is open till 1 am, under special permission.
Under the current law, shops are not allowed to do business after 11 pm.
While most shop owners hailed the proposal expecting an increase in revenues, some have expressed apprehension owing to the absence of a “nightlife”. “The 24X7 idea would not work for a city like Ahmedabad where there is no culture of nightlife. Being a dry state, there are no clubs or bars for people to hang out late at night,” said Aachal Tewary, owner of Biskut, an Ahmedabad-based bakery.
Commenting on the feasibility of the concept, Shakti Chaudhary, owner of Karnavati Dairy, said, “We have 31 outlets across Gujarat. If the law is passed, I’ll think about keeping the outlets in Ahmedabad open round-the-clock. However, in smaller cities and towns everything closes by 9 pm.”
“It will aid in optimisation of resources as we pay rent for 24 hours and conduct business only for half the day. However, running the outlets 24X7 will prove to be profitable only if there is sufficient demand,” said Amol Thakrey of Iskcon Ganthia, a popular Gujarati snack and tea selling outlet on SG road from where Narendra Modi as chief minister had launched ‘Chai pe Charcha’ in 2014. The outlet is open till late after midnight.
Under the new Act, persons working in night shifts will get double the wages as against the 1.5 times mandated by the existing law.
“It is not cost-effective, I cannot afford such a rise in remuneration unless the revenue shoots up,” Thakrey said.
However, employees have said that fair remuneration depends on the employers.
Dinesh Gupta, manager at Asharfilal Kulfi at Manek Chowk, the old city square known for its night street food market, which remains open from 8 pm to 3 am, said, “We get paid well because of our employer. Fair remuneration depends upon the goodwill of the employer. As far as double pay is concerned, I don’t think anyone here will be thus compensated.”
“We welcome this move. There have been significant improvements in the regulatory environment surrounding the food service sector as the process of acquiring licences has become easier. Presently, a restaurateur needs to issue around 40 NOC’s and licences to set up a shop. The proposal of doing away with yearly renewal would be held in ease of doing business. Further, restaurateurs would not have to take police permit to keep their shop open 24X7. A single-window clearance facility for acquiring licences would fast track the process. Today, it takes 4-6 months to get all the permits,” said Narendra Somani, president of the Hotels and Restaurants Association of Gujarat.
The new Act has, however, drawn ire from women in the state as it restricts their working hours from 6 am to 9 pm. “This provision is regressive. Women have proven themselves capable of marking their presence in every endeavour. If an establishment wishes to hire women, they should be able to do so. Besides, increased remuneration will boost women’s participation in the labour force,” said Khushi Motiyani, a city-based entrepreneur. “The government could extend a policy of safety measures for night shift women workers instead of not allowing them at all. It is like they are propagating discriminatory practices,” said Manish Rawal, manager at Huber and Holly, a dessert cafe. Justifying their zero-women employees policy at Honest, Vijay Gupta said, “We did hire women back in 2014, but they faced harassment in the form of lewd remarks from male customers and workers.”
Blaming the work environment in the industry, Shakti Chaudhary of Karnavati Dairy said, “Women feel uncomfortable as many of the male employees do not maintain a professional atmosphere. In an establishment with no women employees, women themselves don’t approach us for employment.”
Rachita Vakodkar, working in the night shift at a Vodafone call center in Ahmedabad, said, “I prefer the night shift as I can help with household chores in the morning and work in the night.”
(The writers are interns with this newspaper)