Policies introduced with the best of intentions don't always yield the right results on the ground. India's Maternity Benefits (Amendment) Act 2017 that mandated most employers to offer a generous 26 weeks of paid maternity leave along with having a creche facility has not helped in increasing the number of working women in the country.
The findings are a part of the survey "Maternity Benefits (Amendment) Act 2017: Revisiting the impact" by staffing firm TeamLease Services. The survey was conducted across 337 employers who are a mix of small, medium and large enterprises using a dip stick methodology during June and July 2020.
It found that out of the ten sectors, five sectors -- Aviation, Retail, and Tourism, Real estate and Manufacturing -- recorded a drop in the share of women in their workforce. As a result, women likely faced a net job opportunity loss between 9.1 lakhs and 13.6 lakhs over FY 2019-20, as compared to the 13 lakhs -18 lakhs job loss in FY 2018-19.
Sectors that have done better in employing women are BPO/ITes, BFSI, Ecommerce and IT. Of these, BFSI (Banking, financial services and insurance) continues to employ the highest proportion of women in the workforce, compared with other sectors. The reasons, of course, is the lack of buy-in from the employers for various reasons: 84% of the employers believe the act has negatively impacted their organisations through increased attrition (34%), increased cost (24%) and increased burden to the employees (26%).
No wonder, even after three years of the Act being implemented, only 40% of all employers surveyed do not provide the mandated 26 weeks of paid maternity leave. The Act has also not helped in breaking perceptions and bias that exist in society. Women continue to leave workforce due to the pressure of domestic duties, gender bias faced at work and stigma against women in employment.
"While the act is intended to improve female workforce participation certain deep-rooted societal realities inhibit women from joining the workforce. Patriarchal attitudes and gender-role stereotypes continue to play a key role in suppressing LFPR rates, while also rendering the act ineffective," says Rituparna Chakraborty, Executive Vice President and Co-Founder, TeamLease Services.
From the companies surveyed, 56% of startups and 45% of MSMEs don't offer adequate leaves to women employees . Almost an equal proportion of women from MNCs (25%), MSMEs (30%) and Start-ups (27%) report being paid less than their male co-workers. At family run businesses, women employees feel they are not given challenging work roles.
Also, once women are back from maternity leave, 30% of them reported getting wage cuts, 25% didn't get the required support from family and 20% didn't have access to childcare facilities. As per the study, around 36% of the male respondents felt the act was one sided. Also, 45% of the respondents were of the opinion that both parents should get paid leave for childcare.
Earlier research has shown that the Maternity Act doesn't cover majority of working women in the country. According to the act, the law covers companies with at least 10 employees. According to the research paper "Premature Imitation and India's Flailing State", 84% work of women work in the unorganised sector or in companies employing less than 10 employees where the maternity law does not apply.
"Weighing the burden of change on corporates alone will not be effective, it will require a comprehensive approach," says Chakraborty.
She suggests incentive schemes can be introduced wherein seven weeks wages would be reimbursed to employers who employ women workers with wage ceiling up to Rs 15,000, and provide the maternity benefit of 26 weeks paid leave. Also, companies can be incentivised to do wide spread campaigns to highlight certain deep-rooted societal challenges that women face will improve the efficacy of the act.