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close this bookABC of Women Workers' Rights and Gender Equality (ILO; 2000; 124 pages)
View the documentThe International Labour Organization
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View the documentPreface to the earlier ABC of women workers' rights
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Open this folder and view contentsIntroduction: Labour standards promoting women workers' rights and gender equality (Ingeborg Heide1)
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View the documentNight work
View the documentNon-traditional occupations
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Night work

In agricultural enterprises, the employment of women during the night should be regulated so as to ensure that they have a period of rest consisting of no less than nine hours, which ought to be consecutive.

Concerning night work for women in industry, Convention No. 89 provides that women should not work during the night for at least 11 consecutive hours, of which seven shall be between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. Excluded from the scope of this Convention are:

• enterprises where only members of the same family work;

• women holding responsible positions of a managerial or technical character; and

• women employed in health and welfare services who are not ordinarily employed in manual work.

The Protocol adopted in 1990 has enlarged the flexibility of the Convention. It is now established that the duration of the "night" may be modified and exemptions from the prohibition introduced by governments after consulting the employers' and workers' organizations. In those cases, pregnant women and mothers of infants should be safeguarded.

In 1990, a new Night Work Convention (No. 171) was adopted according to which all workers, regardless of sex, working during the night should be protected by specific measures, including:

• health protection (first-aid facilities, health checks);
• maternity protection;
• social services;
• opportunities for occupational advancement;
• additional compensation (working time, pay or similar benefits).

Exempt from the scope of this Convention are workers employed in the agriculture, stock-raising, fishing, maritime, transport and inland navigation sectors working during the night. The "night" is now defined as at least seven consecutive hours which include the hours between midnight and 5 a.m.

A woman night worker should be transferred to day work or have the maternity leave extended before and after childbirth for a period of at least 16 weeks, of which at least eight should be before the expected date of childbirth. During this period, the woman:

• should not be dismissed or given notice of dismissal except for justifiable reasons not connected with pregnancy or childbirth;

• should be guaranteed an income at a level sufficient for the upkeep of herself and her child; and

• should not lose the benefits regarding status, seniority and access to promotion which may be attached to her regular night work position.

This development demonstrates a shift from the original concept of protecting all women to an understanding that protection, where necessary from the nature of work, should in principle be granted to all workers.

Women's general exclusion from night work could have a negative effect on their chances in the labour market and is now increasingly seen as discriminatory (unless justified by reasons linked with maternity). Some governments have denounced Convention No. 89, asserting that its provisions could compromise the principle of equality and opportunity between men and women. In 1991, the same Convention was declared incompatible with European standards by the European Court of Justice, because it discriminated directly against women.

C. 41: Night Work (Women) (Revised), 1934
C. 89: Night Work (Women) (Revised), 1948, and Protocol, 1990
C. 171: Night Work, 1990
R. 178: Night Work, 1990

→ see also Dismissal (termination of employment) and Maternity leave

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