Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act: From Cairn India to Fortis Healthcare, HR heads call it a catalyst for gender balance

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Updated: April 7, 2017 12:38:45 PM

Finally, the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act has come into force. This is good news for working women who want to start a family without worrying about how to manage their work-life balance when there is a baby on the way.

More importantly, this marks a significant push in ushering in initiatives that ensure gender balance at the work place. (IE)

Finally, the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act has come into force. This is good news for working women who want to start a family without worrying about how to manage their work-life balance when there is a baby on the way. More importantly, this marks a significant push in ushering in initiatives that ensure gender balance at the work place.

As Abhijit Bhaduri, Social media influencer and Talent Development Coach, earlier told FE Online, “Gender, as a basis of any kind of boundary, is old world thinking. India is building a world-view model…talent is going to become more important for Indian companies that want to excel in the digital space. More women leaders are required at the top in companies. Their number is painfully low at present.”

Starting April 1, 2017, the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2016 has officially come into force. Some provisions that relate to permission to work from home will come into effect from July 1, 2017.

Some of the most important provisions in the Act are:

1. Maternity leave will now be available to working women from 12 to 16 weeks for first two children and after two children, it will remain at 12 weeks.

2. For mothers who are adopting a child below 3 months, a maternity leave of 12 months will be available. This applies to ‘Commissioning’ mothers also – means a biological mother whose definition is described in the specific provision.

3. Every organisation that has more than 50 employees has to provide creche facilities for working mothers and the mothers will be allowed to make four visits to look after and feed the child.

4. In a working woman’s appointment letter, the establishment has to keep her informed of these facilities that will be available for her as per the provisions of the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2016.

It may be noted that setting up creche facilities have already been provided for in the Factories Act 1948 and the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970. However, questions remain as to the practicality of implementing these facilities and there continues to be a lack of clarity around this provision, given the cost of usage of such facilities and how it shall be maintained.

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Given the Indian scenario of recruiting, hiring and retaining women professionals, the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act gives a good head start. However, will these benefits translate into reality in a traditonally male-dominated sectors such as the oil and gas industry?

Madhu Srivastava, Deputy Head – HR and Administration, Cairn India Ltd, told FE Online, “It is difficult to generalize an industry trend since it is the corporate entity’s ethos and cultural value systems which define such prerogatives. Traditionally, the oil and gas industry has had a higher proportion of men in the workforce – given certain elements of risk and remoteness – however, Cairn India has worked hard to get a right gender balance in its business. We strive to create a workplace which nurtures our people and enables them to unlock their true potential. We have been amongst the first movers and well ahead of the benchmark Maternity Bill as Cairn India already had in place a progressive parental leave policy for its employees, comprising of six-month maternity as well as paternity and adoption leaves. ”

Speaking to FE Online, Ranjan Pandey, Head Operations, Fortis Healthcare stated, “The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act is an excellent initiative which brings India at par with the best practices as far as maternity leaves are concerned.”

However, the Act now raises some concerns about the ‘gray’ areas around certain provisions which may require some legal clarity.

Sonali Basu-Parekh, Partner in a leading law firm in New Delhi, shared her insights with FE Online, “The Maternity Act is of particular significance in the legal profession where a number of women lawyers feel obliged to exit the profession during pregnancy, given the nature of the work and the difficulty in returning to work after a substantial gap. The new Amendment Act will afford the possibility of retaining and returning to their positions without much struggle. However, a large share of the workforce is not in the organized sector at all – be it in the legal profession or any other industry. The challenge is to reach the benefits to those who are not employed in the organized sector. Also, in the legal profession, only a small share of chambers, law firms, law offices or other organizations would need to comply with this statute, leaving a large number of other women lawyers out of its purview. ”

“A large part of the employment in the legal profession still operates on a retainer ship basis, not an employment relationship,” she adds.

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What about sectors that are diverse – such as an amusement park or a theme park that has a dynamic ecosystem or in the context of healthcare services that require 24X7 medical attention?

Speaking to FE Online, Priya Sarah Joseph, Director, Wonder la Holidays explains, “I think being a woman in HR helps me understand better the benefits to women employees with the new law and also its implications to the business. Many aspects of the new law can easily be implemented from a policy and culture standpoint but some like creating a creche are more challenging due to space and budget constraints. While we can create tie-ups with nearby creches, it still poses some logistical and financial burdens.”

To a certain extent, Ranjan Pandey, Head Operations, Fortis Healthcare agrees with the difficulty of implementing the creche facility. In his words, “There are two laws that provide maternity benefits in India – the Maternity Benefits Act 1961 and the ESI Act 1948. While the maternity leaves are more or less similar but the earlier provides for creche and the latter does not. This may create a conflicting situation at the workplace. Healthcare has high attrition and such enhancement leaves will create problems for smaller players and may even lead to compliance issues.”

Now that brings up another important question – how does the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act impact a company’s hiring process?

“As a company, we are looking to recruit more women in the workplace both at the branch and corporate levels. In fact, in a predominantly male dominated segment of mechanical engineering, we have slowly started adding women ride operators in all our amusement parks. They bring significant talent, skill set, customer service, dedication and they easily assimilate company work culture. I hope that laws like this create a more conducive work environment for women to balance both work and family,” Priya Sarah Joseph adds.

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Summing up, Madhu Srivastava, Deputy Head – HR and Administration, Cairn India Ltd, told FE Online, “I certainly believe that the provisions of the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act will lead to companies preferring to hire more men than women. Au contraire, I believe that more and more women will be encouraged to join the workforce, including the oil and gas sector, since the Bill has been a significant catalyst for ensuring gender balance in the workplace.”

And it’s a wrap up with just one thing to cheer in this context: More power to working women at the workplace. May their tribe increase!

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