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Female Workers In India Just Won The Right To Sit Down At Work

In a landmark win for women workers in Kerala, they will now have the right to sit down at down during a shift.

Until recently female shop workers, who make up the majority of Kerala's retail workforce, would have to endure lengthly 12-14 hour shifts without sitting. In many of the huge, bustling fabric shops in the area, stories of employers monitoring workers on CCTV to make sure they complied with the harsh and grueling conditions enforced in their stores are common.

Toilet breaks are infrequently permitted and merely leaning against the wall was considered punishable. The Times of India explains that Anitha, who worked in one of Kerala's many big textile stores some years ago, had her pay cut by 100 rupees for pausing to lean on the wall while a customer discussed fabrics. The Guardian reports that of another woman who has developed painful swelling in her legs from being forced to stand for the duration of the long working day.

'We can't use lifts either', she said. 'All customers pay on the ground floor for their purchases and we have to accompany them so we are up and down the stairs all day. A few times, when we did use the lift, customers complained about having to share it with us'.

Thanks in large to the efforts by the womens' union, AMTU, set up by the Penkootu women's collective leader Viji Penkoot, the Kerala government has said it will make reforms.

Following shop assistant protests that emerged in the streets of Kerala, the state cabinet announced that it would add a clause to the existing labour laws. Under the Kerala Shops and Commercial Establishments Act, the minimum monthly starting salary will be 10,000 rupees (£110) and the new law will also require employers to provide a chair or stool, and both a lunch and afternoon tea break for which the duration is yet to be outlined.

The working conditions have been insufferable for many of the women of Kerala. 'The women are careful not to drink too much because they cannot go to the toilet when they want to' Viji Penkoot told The Guardian. 'They get urinary infections, kidney problems. They have varicose veins and joint pain from standing. It took us a long time for the government to pay any attention to this problem'.

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