Reflection on implication of Maternity Benefit Amendment Act
Labour laws, certainly are beneficial pieces of legislation, meant to ensure better terms and conditions of employment to workers. Recently passed, Maternity Benefit Amendment Act is one such landmark legislation that has opened a new era of child care , social good and provisions for working mothers to ease out balancing of work and infant child care. Deliberating more on the implications of Maternity Benefits Amendment Act and crèche policy on industry and the possible hiring of women in the workforce, an industry roundtable was organized to explore practical solutions and recommendations.
It was organized by Institute of Inspired Leadership for Women and Approach Talent Solutions with the support of National HRD Network, People Matters, SHRM, Nagarro. The Roundtable was joined by representations from companies like Evalueserve, MakeMyTrip, Dr. Path labs, Grant Thornton, Quatrro, Hughes Systique, Akzo Nobel, British Telecommunications, Birla Sun life, the Oberoi Group, Tata Communications etc. It was facilitated by Gauri Sarin, Founder of Institute for Inspired Leadership of Women. Several crucial points were made during the roundtable with reference to extended Maternity Leave and Creche Policy.
Anjali Bhardwaj , HR Manager, Sun Life Financial , said , “Child care requires equal partnership of both mother and father, therefore , I feel, Paternity leave is needed to be mandated.”
On the issue of increased cost to companies, Manas Fuloria, Co-founder and CEO Naggaro says, “The government must bear the increased cost to companies, or give at least three additional months of pay as future tax breaks to the individual, or in the worst case allow this to be paid out of mandatory CSR spend. I don't mind if the government raises these funds through increased taxes on profits.”
Some of the recommendations and challenges discussed during roundtable are the following:
Maternity Leave Policy - Since Maternity Act is a deemed benefit, why burden and onus of payment is entirely on employer. Several employers who have hired women in child bearing age groups are suddenly struck with additional costs and budget for extended maternity leave. Several small companies and startups cannot bear the burden on their own. Hence, it is recommended that to mitigate the burden and share the responsibility for paid. Though this is a welcome step but unconsciously it might lead to reduced hiring of women in industry. Some of the recommendations made were - Tax break to start ups and small companies of less than 100 employees, women employees exceed 10 , Tax break to companies which hire more than 25 % women in their workforce, Making paid leave applicable post 3 months to only women drawing less than 10 lakhs a year. Otherwise it could be unpaid leave etc. Timing of Maternity
Timing of Maternity leave: Industry leaders have noted that in times when jobs are few and industry is tumultuous, women may feel the break is too long and the skills become fast redundant or that replacement for the employer is difficult to fill. Keeping this view, some of the recommendations were - Post 3 months the mother is given the option to stagger the extra 3 month leave over next one year depending on her requirement, women employee to be allowed to work part-time spreading her leave over 6 months if so agreed by the employer. In other words, if mutually convenient, the mother can work part time from workplace/ home over next 6 months instead of taking leave full time for 3 months. This may be a win-win for both employer and employee and support child rearing too.
Return to work: It is a concern for several employers that women may not choose to return to work or find themselves with lesser roles after a long break. Hence, it was recommended - return to work policy may be put in place to both support the employer and returning mother to ensure continuity of satisfactory employment. The guidelines of the same can be jointly worked out by industry bodies and Govt.
Impact on Retention: It is assumed that the retention of women in the workforce will increase as a result of this policy. However, data must be collected on a regular basis to substantiate this assumption especially from sectors employing a large number of women.
Critical/irreplaceable roles: In certain sectors such as healthcare, education, project based or client facing, where replacement is difficult to find, women can be asked by the employer to work flexi-time from workplace or home based on mutual understanding.
Paternity or Family Leave: With changes in society and roles of men and women, it is important to give paternity leave or family leave. Sharing the responsibility of raising a child to be given clearer shape in the form of part-time/flexi working for male employees after the child is 3 months for at least a period of 3 months based on requirement.
Several queries/suggestions with regard to the implementation of crèche policy were also garnered from the team - for example, questions were raised with regard to the location of crèches. Within 500 m is it practical to have a crèche but it is not always possible, the distance can be increased? In many cases, the number of employees of a company may be over 50 but in a specific location may be lesser, women may be even a much smaller number. If the total number of employees per location is said less than 10 and women in proportion are not more than 2/3 then what is the company mandated to do? Besides having space and vendors who are responsible for the child care?
These were some of the perspectives shared and put together as recommendations sent to Ministry of Labour & Employment to help create a policy which is industry, women, and child-friendly.