Could the maternity act be counter productive for women? We raise key questions
The good news is the maternity leave in India is much more than most other country. But is everyone celebrating? Can’t say that yet. And that includes women. The act is also getting criticised for not including paternity leave. Additionally there are fears among organisations that such a long leave might deter them from hiring people.
Maternity leave in the private sector will increase from 12 to 26 weeks, as soon as the Maternity Benefit Amendment Act becomes effective.
The Act also includes additional benefits such as day care facilities for mothers who work in companies which have at least 50 employees, work from home policies, and 12 weeks maternity leave for female employees who adopt a child who is less than three months old.
“India now surpasses many European and Asian countries in terms of maternity benefits being provided to working mothers,” Nishith Desai Associates, an Indian law firm, said in a recent note.
While India has now become one of the most progressive countries in the world when it comes to maternity benefits, and could encourage women not to give up their careers after giving birth, it could also reduce companies’ willingness to hire female employees.
HITS AND MISSES
One of the other ‘misses’ of the Act, says Nishith Desai, is that the act did not introduce paternity leave and “a chance to spread the message that the responsibility of running a family should be of both the parents..”
It also overlooked Sixth Central Pay Commission’s recommendation and let out the majority of the workforce that works in the unorganised sector.
THE COST MATTERS?
Additionally, the cost of the increased maternity leave is to be borne only by the employer without help from the government or social security schemes like the ones in other countries.
We asked a few HR professionals about whether they think the maternity benefit act will be an overall positive for female employees, or whether it will actually make things worse for women in the workforce.
HR consultant Sunita Wazir says she is for it. “There is no doubt in my mind that the step is a huge positive,” she tells SheThePeople.TV. Women are usually the primary caregivers and are physically attached to their children. She says that she received only three months of maternity leave when she gave birth to her first child, and found that it was too little. She had more time to take care of her second child. “It was fantastic and in no way affected her two decade long career.
She says that she sees a shift in larger companies whose senior leaders are taking initiatives and thinking seriously about women coming back to work.
With these changes now in place, every establishment is now bound to intimate every woman employee regarding the benefits she will get under this new law that too in writing and/or electronically.
“The barrier is in our own heads,” she says. The problems of holding a seat for a woman who is on leave, are real, but the climate has changed. There are also enough people ready to do flexible work.”
The other argument is that such an act will silently become a career-killer. India as a country has seen that mothers face discrimination at the workplace. Many times women return from maternity to be told that they are being skipped over for promotions. At job interviews women who are pregnant many times do not get hired.
DECLINING WOMEN AT WORK
The broader hope and intent behind the bill is that female participation will go up. That the bill will ensure women do not get a raw deal. But International Labour Organisation shows participation rates are down from 34.1 per cent in 1999-00 to 27.2 per cent in 2011-12. This is despite the perceived notion that entrepreneurship is big, women are more educated and the opportunities are news including flexi work.
Rupa Subramanya argues in her blog for Times of India, that “some women currently employed in formal sector jobs may find their positions terminated by employers not wishing to bear the cost and a certain number of women graduates waiting to enter the formal labour force may find themselves unemployed because employers are reluctant to hire women in their child bearing years.”
The arguments are strong on both sides. However this move is a bold one that can become the bedrock of a changing mindsets in a country like India. It does need a lot of work on putting intention into execution and that is imbibing the bill and ensuring women are not at a loss of their jobs or promotions. One only hopes that as India joins the league of nations who will support higher maternity leaves, there is a parallel movement to make this meaningful and make the cost of it work out in a way that the idea doesnt kill careers or hold up organisations from hiring women.