Answer Writing Practice for UPSC IAS Mains Exam: Paper - II (General Studies – I) - 16 November 2018


Answer Writing Practice for UPSC IAS Mains Exam


UPSC Syllabus:

  • Paper-II: General Studies - I (Indian Heritage and Culture, History and Geography of the World and Society)

Q. The extended maternity leave may deter employers from hiring women, therefore, the issue of maternity benefits needs more comprehensive measures and not just a one-sided Act. Discuss. (250 words)

Model Answer:

Approach:

  • Why in news?
  • Introduction
  • Deterrence to women employment
  • Comprehensive measures
  • Conclusion

Why in news?

It has been one year since the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act 2017 came into being.

Recently, the Madras High Court held that a woman has the fundamental right to dignity as a mother, and maternity leave period is a part of the service period. 

Parenting laws in India have been topic of dispute between employers and employees, especially maternity leave benefit.

Introduction

  • Maternity Benefit is one of the employment benefits available to women, employed in both private and public sector in India. Maternity benefit is a ‘fully paid’ leave available to a pregnant and lactating working woman, to take care of herself and her child.
  • The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 was amended by the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017 which came into effect on April 1, 2017. 
  • The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act 2017 increases women’s leave entitlements from 12 to 26 weeks. Of these, up to eight weeks can be taken pre-delivery. Enterprises with 50 or more employees must also provide crèches and allow the mother four crèche visits, daily. Women with two or more children get reduced entitlements. The costs of these benefits are to be borne solely by employers.
  • Every employer that has more than 10 employees working in his establishment is required to provide maternity benefit to every woman employee. 

Deterrence to women employment

  • According to a survey by TeamLease Services Ltd., the law, which makes India the most progressive country after Canada and Norway in enabling women to stay on in the workforce, will probably lead to job losses and discourage smaller businesses and start-ups from hiring women. Employers prefer to hire a young man rather than a young woman due to the high costs of maternity leave.
  • An estimated 1.1 million to 1.8 million women will lose their jobs across 10 sectors in the financial year to March 2019 because of the law, the survey showed.
  • That is bad news for a country where the share of women in the workforce has shrunk to around 24 per cent in the fiscal year ended 2016 from 36 percent a decade earlier.

Comprehensive measures

In India, where barely 6.5 per cent of women are in the formal sector, it will be disastrous if extended maternity leave further deters employers from hiring women. As more young educated women join the workforce, we need more comprehensive and gender-balanced measures as follows –

  • Childcare should not be treated solely as women’s responsibility. Some 55 per cent countries recognise the father’s role and give parental leave or paternity leave in varying degrees. Unspecified parental leave ends up being taken mainly by women rather than shared equally between the spouses. Hence, given social norms, it is better to give paternity leave or non-transferable quotas of parental leave. Iceland, for instance, grants nine months of parental leave, of which three are reserved for the mother, three for the father, and three can be shared between them. Matching paternity and maternity leave would create a more level playing field for women and reduce potential employer discrimination. Of course, whether Indian men will avail of extended paternity leave remains to be seen (at present, central government employees get 15 days), but it would provide a strong incentive to do so.
  • Government should share the cost burden of employers. Companies are less likely to discriminate against women if the government pitches in. The 2018 ILO report on Care Work and Care Jobs emphasises the need for government support up to at least two-thirds of the costs of maternity benefits, under ILO Convention 183.
  • These kinds of reforms are essentially supported by proactive governments across the world with complementing tax concessions, which are missing in India.
  • Childcare after six months of maternity leave. The one measure that would benefit women across all sectors, formal and informal, is providing good crèches and childcare centres. India largely lacks facilities where women can leave their children not just to be “minded”, but also for early childhood development. Our Integrated Child Development Services, meant to provide nutrition and childcare up to six years of age, lack greatly in quality and coverage. In Japan, the government’s expansion of high quality childcare centres has significantly increased women’s work participation. In India, at the very least, childcare centres should be the joint responsibility of government and private employers.
  • Flexible work time for both sexes can additionally help with work-life balance. Notably, in the TeamLease Report, large companies in IT and e-commerce were the main ones supporting extended maternity leave. These are precisely the sectors where flexi-time is easy to introduce and employees can work partly from home. In western counties, companies which allow such flexibility find it increases worker productivity, and is taken by both sexes.

Conclusion

To ensure that extended maternity leave does not backfire on women’s jobs, we need equivalent paternity leave, government sharing of costs with employers, high quality crèches and childcare centres, and serious efforts, including media campaigns, to change social norms favouring childcare by fathers.

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