File photo from shethepeople.tv.
Increasing female labour force participation has been a challenge for the country. These
challenges are even greater for night-work and shift-work (hence referred to as non-standard work).
There is a growing trend in shift and night work in the service sector in Sri Lanka. As
labour force participation rates for males are already fairly high, policymakers are
increasingly looking towards females to fill the worker requirements for non-standard jobs.
The current literature has given limited attention on the specific challenges faced by females looking to work in non-standard jobs.
In this context, based on in-depth face-to-face interviews conducted among a sample of 30
associate professional and semi-skilled women working in the private hospital and
supermarket sectors, an IPS study on ‘Women, Work and Night Shifts in Nursing Homes and Supermarkets’ examined Sri Lankan women’s experiences and challenges in non-standard work.
The study also analysed existing labour legislation for night work and associated
The majority of female employees interviewed in thestudy both wanted and needed to work. In the absenceof standard work opportunities, non-standard work hadimportant benefits for both women themselves and thewider society. It empowered women and also helpedthem to support their families financially in spheressuch as education of children, health needs of parents,and building houses.
However, a number of barriers prevented women from fully engaging in non-standard work.
Challenges at home and on the road
• Marriage and work-life balance, especially when no family support was available.
• Family and societal disapproval, especially in the supermarket sector, where the nature of
work is not as appreciated and respected as in the nursing home industry.
• Unreliability and safety concerns of night-time transport when facilities were not
provided by employers.
• Gender-based harassment on the road and in public transport, such as cat calling,
whistling, and unwanted comments on physical appearance.
Challenges at work and working conditions
• Long working hours often extending beyond the allocated shift.
• Lack of basic facilities and allocated meal times particularly for nursing home workers,
whose patients require round-the-clock care.
• Harassment from customers, including inappropriate remarks and unwelcome physical
1. Address risks and inefficiencies associated with travelling to work in the night by
increasing the frequency and reliability of public transport facilities. Further, strict
regulations should safeguard women from harassment in public transport and on the
2. Legislation and monitoring mechanisms should be tightened to improve working
conditions and facilities to ensure that workers are not exploited in night/shift work.
3. Factoring in additional costs involved in working in the night when determining
minimum wages will motivate more women to engage in night work.
4. Building awareness of workers’ rights via media campaigns on entitlements and
legislation will help protect workers from being exploited.
5. Challenge conventional gender roles from an early age to empower girls and women to
follow their aspirations and to stand up for their rights. Introducing gender awareness
and equality at the school level can help reshape attitudes and beliefs of children on
women in the work place, as they grow up to be responsible citizens who contribute to
From the IPS publication ‘WOMEN, WORK AND NIGHT SHIFTS IN NURSING HOMES AND SUPERMARKETS’