Thiruvananthapuram: Gita (name changed), a junior marketing department official in a private firm, had been over the moon when a few months ago she discovered that she was to be a mother soon. Because of some medical issues, she needed to take leave during the gestation period itself.
Her joy soon turned to despair when she was told unequivocally by her employer of seven years that she had better quit because meeting the marketing targets was crucial for the firm and it could not afford to have one of its employees on extended leave.
“This job was important for me and I appealed that I may be retained on no-pay basis beyond my mandatory maternity leave so that I would have a job to come back to after my child was born. My request was declined. I was told to try apply to the firm afresh when I was ready to come back. I am jobless now and awaiting the birth of my firstborn but I worry myself sick that I do not have an income to bank on,” says Gita
The Rajya Sabha passing the amendment to the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, raising the eligible maternity leave for women with full pay from 12 to 26 weeks in all establishments, including the private sector, should come as a huge relief for many women like Gita who are forced to embrace the joy of motherhood with the despair of unemployment.
For many young women employees in the private sector, who may be dreading or postponing motherhood indefinitely for fear of loss of employment also, the prospect of an extended mandatory maternity leave with pay is akin to a lifeline.
“This is a very progressive and empowering step and recognition of the fact that motherhood is the right of every woman, because of which no woman should be discriminated against or threatened with the prospect of unemployment. This will definitely improve the employment participation of women,” State Women’s Commission chairperson K. C. Rosakkutty said.
Many corporate and private sector firms do not even allow women the current mandatory provision of three months’ maternity leave, she pointed out.
The amendment passed by the Rajya Sabha also makes it mandatory for private firms employing over 30 women to provide crèche facilities. Though not mandatory, employers should explore the option of allowing new moms to work from home, according to the Bill.
However, many also wonder if the mandatory six months maternity leave with full pay law could end up reducing the employment prospects of women as many private sector firms may choose not to employ women.