Moneycontrol
Mar 17, 2017 11:04 AM IST | Source: Moneycontrol.com

Longer maternity leave may not mean good news for women

HR experts said that there are several loopholes that need to be bridged to ensure that no biases crop against employment of women in smaller companies.

ByM Saraswathy
Longer maternity leave may not mean good news for women

India has become the third best country in terms of the duration of maternity leave given to women. However, this may not mean good news for all females because smaller companies could find it difficult to allow them to avail of such a long leave.

Earlier, the law allowed three months or 12 weeks of maternity leave which has now been extended to 26 weeks. This new law will apply to all establishments having 10 or more employees and will be applicable only for the first two children. In case of the third child, maternity leave will only be for 12 weeks. Last week, the Parliament gave a nod to the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016.

Though women will now be entitled to more leave for maternity, not all organisations will be in a position to offer 26 weeks leave which is almost six and a half months. This is especially true of companies with a higher ratio of women and a smaller staff strength.

Subramanyam S, Founder and CEO, Ascent HR said that the Amendment to the Maternity Bill, which seemed to be long overdue, is now facing some serious reconsideration by entrepreneurs due to its skewed philosophy.

While the law is expected to benefit about 1.5 million women across the country, in the unorganised sector no such benefit exists. Labour unions have often complained that even in the eighth month of pregnancy, women who are daily wage earners continue to go to the factory/shop floor.

Many companies have the second career programme wherein women can rejoin work after their maternity leave and be installed at the same or better position. For instance, companies like Accenture also start having conversations with women around the time when the maternity leave is about to end so that women feel confident to come back to the office.

Human resource officials said that apart from merely offering 26 weeks leave, a culture of welcoming women back into the workplace should be encouraged. Many industries including aviation and entertainment have clauses in the employment contract that bar women from getting married or having children.

While India does not follow one child/two child policy, it is not clear why it will not be applicable for the third child. So, even those companies who were offering higher quantum of leave for maternity may reduce it since the law no longer mandates it.

“To an SME or a startup with say 20 or 25 employees, a 26 week of absence is a significant loss as they operate on thin margins. This kind of scenario perpetually kills the enterprise and renders some of the jobs redundant in anticipation; therefore, a businessman must have the leeway of adopting policies that suit his enterprise or industry,” said Subramanyam.

He added that due to this, married women will not be the most preferred. While questions such as ‘Are you married’ and ‘How long have you been married’ are commonly asked during interviews, he added that without a legal obligation prohibiting such questions from being asked during interviews it would be not easy for women to get employed in critical jobs.

Over and above, many women are reluctant to come back to the workplace post maternity due to either being neglected for important roles or losing out on key skills that were brought into the workplace during their absence. With the leave now being extended to 26 weeks, skill gap bridging may get even tougher.

HR experts said that there are several loopholes that need to be bridged to ensure that no biases crop up against employment of women in smaller companies. Without this, as Subramanyam points out, there will be underemployment of women.
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