November 26, 2018

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Creche benefit - empowering or widening the gender gap?

- Shalini Saxena, Legal consultant [ Renewable Industries ]


These changes have the promise but to be successful, they will need to not just fill inherent procedural gaps, but also address other limitations...

What the milestone 2017 amendment to the Maternity Benefit Act, did among other changes, was to mandate on every establishment, with minimum 50 employees, to provide a child day-care creche/facility within a prescribed distance, for working mothers. Some other provisions, were around the room(s) required in such a creche, the mother to be allowed 4 visits daily to such a creche. When we put these amendments into the present working ground of a woman in an organisation/office/shop today, not factory floor, they don’t seem to resonate......who has defined rest intervals, then again traveling to a creche once will be tough, four times a day will be impossible. These knowledge gaps and areas requiring clarity, had the Ministry earlier this year propose extension of the ‘Mines Crèche Rules, 1966’ to all such covered establishment. This dated legislation is in dire need for some radical amendments of its own, extending this blindly will bring its own challenges, for example these rules for mines and circuses mentioned “prescribed distance” as within 500 meters from the main entrance of the establishment, this may not be possible in today’s commercial building set ups. Further, how does this help companies that may tie up with existing day care to provide such benefit.

We need to be mindful that a benefit to an employee is a cost that the company incurs; while large corporations understand the long term benefit of encouraging such legislations; start-ups, micro, small and medium enterprises that employ around 40% of India’s work force, will end up grappling with more operating costs. Such benefits will only increase cost pressures, heighten risk of litigation, penalties for non-compliance and threatened practicality. Earlier this year, World Bank reported India having the lowest female labour force participation rates in the world, which drags on GDP growth and is an obstacle to reaching higher growth path. In contrast, China has 64% of its women working, being one of the highest rates in the world, even US is at 56%. Countries like Nepal and Bangladesh are doing much better than India in female labour force participation.

These changes all have the promise but to be successful, they will need to not just fill inherent procedural gaps, but also address other limitations, such as lack of gender diversity at work, missing ecosystem for sustainable careers for both women and men, lack of paternal leave, no understanding on importance of certain gender-based work inequalities, lack of recognition and reduction of unpaid work by women, need to shed existing stereotypes. Each of these incidental limitations is central to gender equality and women’s rights and each has the potential to derail this game changing move.

The hope is we go beyond the realms of merely complying or appearing to comply with steps to empower; rather we aim at giving due importance to this important contributor not just at the workplace but also to the growth of this country – WOMAN AT WORKPLACE. The Hon’ble Prime Minister of India in one his recent program had said: "Our dream of New India is an India where women are empowered, strengthened, where they become equal partners in the all-round development of the country."

Disclaimer - The views expressed in this article are the personal views of the author and are purely informative in nature.


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