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Friday, December 25, 1998 Published at 16:46 GMT

World: South Asia

Bombay barmaids call time

The barmaids' strike could force venues to close

Christmas in Bombay has been dampened by industrial action from the city's 100,000 barmaids in a row over tips and working hours.

The barmaids' union says the decision to strike between Christmas and New Year was intended to attract maximum attention and about 1,500 of the city's bars are affected.

Anand Shetty, the male president of Barmaids' Association said: "Bars have been fleecing these girls of their dues. We will keep the strike on until it is decided the barmaids can keep 100% of their earnings."

The union is demanding an end to the practice under which bar owners forcibly retain up to 40% of tips received by dancing girls and waitresses.

Time at the bar

The protesters say they will return to work if their demands are satisfied.

As well as an end to bar-owners deducting tips, they want the state government to allow them to work longer hours.

At present, a local law stops women from serving alcohol after 8.30pm in restaurants and pubs.

Bombay's barmaids say that they want to work an extra four hours beyond midnight because most customers come in after nine.

The union also wants security for bar girls who switch jobs.

In recent months, there have been reports of barmaids being beaten up for daring to join competitors.

Bad for business

This is not the first time that Bombay barmaids have taken to the streets.

Last year they protested against orders issued by the governing ultra-nationalist Hindu party Shiv Sena introducing the ban on late-night shifts for women.

When protests threatened to snowball into a major controversy, the authorities struck back by ordering the closure of all pubs and bars before midnight.

The decision not only took much fun out of the famed Bombay night life, but also affected business for bar owners.

They in turn - alleged the strikers - began to exploit the bar girls more than ever before.

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