Article (July-2017)

Articles

Declining Rate of Women Employment - Increased maternity leave & mandatory creche facilities may cause further fall

H.L. Kumar

Designation : -   Advocate, Supreme Court

Organization : -  New Delhi

01-Jul-2017

Usually, economic growth goes hand in hand with emancipation of women. But data available with the International Labour Organization (ILO) shows otherwise for India. During the period when the Indian economy grew at a healthy average of about 7%, there was a decline in female participation in the country's labour force from over 35% to 25%. It's a puzzling picture; over the past few decades' access to education for Indian women has increased but still they have increasingly less representation in the employment.


Women's participation in work is an indicator of their status in a society. Paid work offers more opportunities for women's agency, mobility and empowerment, and it usually leads to greater social recognition of the work that women do, whether paid or unpaid. Where women's work participation rates are relatively low, it is safe to say that the surrounding society isn't giving women the capacities, opportunities and freedom to engage in productive work, nor recognising the vast amount of work performed by women as unpaid labour.


In recent decades, India has enjoyed economic and demographic conditions that ordinarily would lead to rising female labour-force participation rates. Economic growth has been high, fertility has fallen substantially; and female education has risen dramatically, albeit from a low level. In other regions, including Latin America and the Middle East and North Africa, similar trends have led to large increases in female participation. Yet National Sample Survey (NSS) data for India show that labour force participation rates of women aged 25-54 (including primary and subsidiary status) have stagnated at about 26-28% in urban areas, and fallen substantially from 57% to 44% in rural areas.


This is an important issue for India's economic development as India is now in the phase of "demographic dividend", where the share of working-age people is particularly high, which can propel per capita growth rates through labour force participation, savings, and investment effects. But if women largely stay out of the labour force, this effect will be much weaker and India could run up labour shortages in key sectors of the economy. Also, there is a wealth of evidence suggesting that employed women have greater bargaining power with positive repercussions on their own well-being and that of their families.
Incentives, safe and conducive environment besides a level playing field were critical to boost women participation in the Indian workforce, the World Bank said. In its India Development Report released on 5th of June 2017, the World Bank said the country had one of the lowest female participation in the workforce, ranking 120th among 131 countries for which data was available. While overall job creation has been limited, most of the new ones have been grabbed by men given the social norms, the report said.


What is worrisome is the fact that the participation level has been dropping since 2005, despite having 42% women who are graduates. The report highlighted that India's potential GDP growth rate can be boosted by a percentage point if women participation increased. Jobs for Indian women remain primarily in the agriculture sector. The share of women in services and industry is less than 20%. Listing out the reasons for a decline in women participation in the workforce, the World Bank says that while a larger number of younger women in India are opting to study in schools, many are also dropping out of the workforce due to lack of job opportunities. Concerns about women's safety are strong and often genuine while flexibility, availability of childcare and adequate pay is important given social norms that require women to reconcile work with household duties. However, what could be a cause for concern is the fact that those women who are moving out of the agriculture are not being able to find jobs elsewhere. In India, the women participation is just at 27% compared to China and Brazil where it is between 65-70%. Even in neighbouring Sri Lanka and Bangladesh the figure is higher.


According to the report, women entrepreneurs typically create more jobs for women but in India the number is few. This is a cause for concern since higher labour earnings are the primary driver of poverty reduction. There is another reason, which is going to be a big hurdle in the employment growth rate among women is the recent increase in the period of maternity leave from 12 to 26 weeks and the mandatory provision for the creche facilities at the workplace for women employees.


It will be truism to say that though both the provisions are well intentioned but as said that the road to hell is often paved with good intentions. What is the point in having bonafide intentions when there is no job left for the women employees? In view of the high expenses involved in maintaining the creche facilities and affording 26 weeks maternity leave to women employees, most of the jobs are bound to be grabbed by the male employees at cheaper the cost. The best alternative which can be thought of for the empowerment of women through more employment is to open the creches by the Government. Therefore, the Government must adopt the realistic steps of opening the creches of its own at the work places or provide enough subsidies to employers, so that they may not feel the pinch of running them at the work premise.


Famous legal philosopher JLA Hart had said that 'Laws are meant to be implemented but un-implementable laws are as bad or good as no laws'. We can only pity on the hair-brained laws that Authorities have thought of with regard to standards of construction and maintenance of creches' at work places. The standards which have been set by the Chief Labour Commissioner (Central), New Delhi in exercise of his powers conferred by clause (VI) (d) of sub-rule (2) of Rule 25 of the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Central Rules, are not only utopian and impractical but are also against the spirit of proclaimed aims of generating more employment and development. The well-nigh impossible impenetrability of the construction and maintenance of the creches' by the employers is to be known to be believed. Moreover, the so-called standards are replete with many self-contradictions. The same are accompanied with this article for the benefit of readers.

Standards of construction and maintenance of creches
In exercise of the powers conferred by clause (vi)(d) of sub-rule (2) of rule 25 of the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Central Rules, 1971, the Chief Labour Commissioner (Central), New Delhi hereby specifies the standard of construction and maintenance of the creches as under :
1. Locations. - A Creche should be located within 50 meters of every establishment where 20 or more women are ordinarily employed as contract labour. While the Creche should be conveniently accessible to the mothers of the children accommodated therein, it should not be situated in close proximity to establishment where obnoxious fumes, dust or odours are given off or in which excessively noisy processes are carried on. 
2. Building. - (i) The Creche building should be constructed of heat resistant materials and should be rain-proof. 
(ii) While in towns it may be built of brick walls with cement or lime plaster, in rural areas it may be built of mud walls with mud plaster. In either case, the flooring and the walls up to a height of 3 ft. should have cement surface. 
(iii) The height of the rooms should be not less than 10 ft. from the floor to the lowest part of the roof. 
(iv) The rooms should be provided with necessary doors and windows for securing and maintaining adequate light and ventilation by free flow of air. 
(v) The building should be periodically inspected in order to see that it is safe and is being maintained under sanitary conditions. 
(vi) The Creche will be kept open at all times both by day and night, when women employees are working. 
3. Accommodation. - (i) Accommodation in the Creche should be on a scale of at least 20 sq. ft. of floor area per child. 
(ii) There should be a shady open-air play-ground suitably fenced for older children. 
4. Amenities. - (i) Cool and wholesome drinking water should be available for the children and the staff of the Creche. Children below 2 years of age should be fed with at least 1/2 pint of pure milk per child per day. Children above 2 years of age should be given wholesome refreshments. 
(ii) Convenient and suitable arrangements should be made for the working mothers to feed their children below 2 years of age during the intervals. 
(iii) There shall be a kitchen attached to the Creche with utensils and other facilities for boiling milk and preparing refreshments, etc. 
(iv) The children as well as the staff of the Creche should be provided with suitable uniforms for wear at the Creche.
(v) There should be a suitable bathroom adjoining the Creche for the washing, of the children and for changing their clothes. Wash basins or similar vessels should also be provided it the rate of one for every four children. There should be arrangements for supply of water at the rate of 5 gallons per child per day. Adequate supply of clean towels and soap should be available at the Creche:
(vi) Adjoining the bathroom there shall be a latrine for the exclusive use of the children in the Creche. The number of seats in the latrine shall be at the rate of one for every 15 children. Separate latrines should be maintained for the use of mothers and Creche staff at a distance of not less than 50 ft. from the Creche.
5. Equipment. - The Creche should have the following equipment at the rate of one for each child- 
(i) Cradles or Cots.
(ii) Beds or mattresses.
(iii) Cotton sheets.
(iv) Rubber sheets (for children below 3 years).
(v) Blankets.
(vi) Pillow with covers.
6. Staff. - Every Creche should be in the charge of a woman with mid-wifery qualification or training as Creche attendant. Where the number of children exceeds ten, the Creche attendant should be assisted by female ayahs at the rate of one ayah-
(a) for every 5 children up to one year;
(b) for every 10 children up to three years; and
(c) for every 15 children of over 3 years of age.
Ayahs should not be less than 30 years of age and should have knowledge and training in the handling of children. 
7. Working hours. - The working hours of the Creche should correspond to the working hours of the mothers. It may have to work in two shifts if the women are employed in two or more shifts, spread over a period exceeding 8 hours a day. Where the Creche works in shifts, different staff should be employed to work in the two shifts. 
8. Medical attention. - (i) The Creche should have first-aid equipment kept in proper condition. 
(ii) Every child should be medically examined before admission. There should be medical check-up of the children once a month and their weight recorded once a month.  
(iii) A record of the periodical medical check-up and weightment should be entered in the record of medical examination of each child kept at the Creche. 
9. Maintenance or records. - The Creche should maintain the following records up-to-date-
(i) Records of Medical Examination of children, in Form "A". 
(ii) Attendance Register of children, in Form "B". 
10. Inspection or Creche. - A Creche may be inspected at any time by an Inspector under the Act or any other officer authorised by the Central Government for the purpose.