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What is ‘Right to Sit’, the Tamil Nadu bill that mandates seating facilities for shop workers

Tamil Nadu introduces bill in assembly inspired by Kerala, which in January 2019 made it a law for shops to provide seating facilities to their employees.

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New Delhi: The Tamil Nadu government formally presented a bill in the state assembly Monday requiring shops, storefronts, and commercial establishments to provide employees with seating facilities.

Announced by Labour and Employment Minister C.V. Ganesan, the ‘Right to Sit’ Bill has been welcomed by members of the state’s workforce, according to a report by The Times of India.

The Tamil Nadu Shops and Establishments (Amendment) Act, 2021, is inspired by a Kerala bill that was first tabled in July 2018 before it became a law in January 2019, after women textile workers in the state protested against harsh conditions in 2016.

In the Kerala Shops and Commercial Establishments (Amendment) Ordinance 2018, seating facilities were mentioned by way of adding a new section in the Kerala Shops and Commercial Establishments Act, 1960.

“In every shop and establishment, suitable arrangements for sitting shall be provided for all workers so as to avoid ‘on the toes’ situation throughout the duty time, so that they may take advantage of any opportunity to sit which may occur during the course of their work,” the new Section 21B of the Tamil Nadu Shops and Establishments (Amendment) Act, 2021, says.

In Tamil Nadu’s case, the bill proposes to amend the Tamil Nadu Shops and Establishments Act, 1947, which provides for “regulation of conditions of work in shops, commercial establishments, restaurants, theatres and other establishments”.

Why Tamil Nadu pushed for the case

The problems faced by members of Tamil Nadu’s workforce in industries like jewellery and textiles have been widely reported on in recent years — workers were being forced to stand throughout their daily 10-12 hour shifts and not being allowed timely toilet breaks.

According to the Deccan Herald and the Free Press Journal, the wording of the Tamil Nadu government’s proposed amendment bill mirrors that of Kerala’s, including the aim of avoiding “on the toes” situation and alleviating the “plight” of workers having to stand while at work all day.

“Many large multi-department showrooms, leading textile and jewellery brands in Tamil Nadu presently do not provide chairs or stools for salespersons to sit during work hours. Due to this, they are forced to stand up to 10 hours or even beyond attending to customers, leading to physical strain and varicose veins,” said a report in the Journal.

Such problems faced by workers in the textile industry also formed the focus of Tamil director Vasanthabalan’s 2010 film, Angaadi Theru (Market Street).

The Herald also quoted Vasanthabalan’s reaction to the ‘Right to Sit’ bill amendment on his Facebook page, as he praised M.K. Stalin’s government for realising his film’s “dream” and reminded his followers of the dangers of swollen varicose veins — mostly found in the lower portion of the legs — affecting textile workers due to long hours at work.

(Edited by Paramita Ghosh)

Also read: Why Stalin consoling OPS over his wife’s demise has sparked hope of civil political culture in TN


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