The ruling could affect millions of women not given employee status because they work from home
A ruling by India's top court that a garment firm must pay pensions to women who worked from home in the 1990s could help millions of "invisible" workers access staff benefits, labour rights activists said on Friday.
The Supreme Court this week directed Godavari Garments Limited to make pension payments of more than 1 million Indian rupees to the women it employed within a month, saying the fact they had worked at home did make them ineligible.
The ruling could affect millions of women not given employee status because they work from home, a common practice in India's garment sector.
The industry employs more than 12 million people in factories, but millions more work from home, according to a study by the University of California released earlier this year.
"This is a very welcome decision because it acknowledges the home as a workplace and women working from home as employees," said Shalini Sinha, a specialist with the global network Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing.
"Acknowledgement of the employer-employee relationship will have far-reaching impact on ensuring social security and benefits for millions of such workers," she said.
There are estimated to be 37 million home based workers across various sectors in India, but Sinha said the true figure was likely higher.
Besides being denied minimum wages, home-workers get no social security or medical benefits from employers and have virtually no avenue to seek redress for abusive or unfair conditions, the University of California report said.
The case the Supreme Court ruled on dates back to 1991, when the government first issued notices accusing Godavari Garments of defaulting on payments to the Employees' Provident Fund, India's state-run pension fund.
The manufacturer argued that the work could have been done by anyone and as it had no supervisory control over the seamstresses, they were not employees.
But the court rejected that, saying since the manufacturer had the right to reject defective work, it had supervisory control.
Charity worker Karrupu Samy said the number of women working from home without proper benefits in the sector was growing.
"We are seeing increasing numbers of manufacturers employ women who have a sewing machine in their homes to stitch," said Samy, director of READ, which works with garment workers in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.
"On paper they have very few employees they have to give social security to. The women working from homes don't count, they remain invisible."