The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act was hailed across the country as a progressive step towards making workplaces women-friendly when it was introduced last year. However, a survey conducted by TeamLease, a recruitment firm, and shared with The Times of India, projected that there could be 11-18 lakh job losses for women in 2018-19 over and above the usual attrition faced by industries.
TeamLease surveyed 300 employers across ten sectors that included aviation, BPO/ITeS, real estate, education, e-commerce, BFSI, IT, manufacturing, retail and tourism. It then came to the conclusion that the cost of paying women 26-week paid leaves was being considered a burden for employers, and that could lead to widespread cuts in jobs for women. The amendment to the maternity benefit act made it mandatory for companies to give women employees paid maternity leaves for 26 weeks, compared to the 12 weeks of paid leave they got previously.
The Vice-President of TeamLease told The Times of India, "Historical data shows that the Indian workforce has been losing women workers at the rate of 28 lakh per year for seven years from 2004-05 to 2011-12. The net job loss (11-18 lakh for 10 sectors for FY19) over and above this number is attributable solely to the Amended Maternity Act."
An article published in Mint last year pointed out that retaining women employees by giving them proper maternity benefits is profitable for the company. "On the economic front, there is ample evidence to suggest maternity leave does not hurt businesses and is actually good for the economy—women workers who have access to maternity leave are more likely to return to the workforce, allowing their firms to not just retain but also attract the best talent. Moreover, the cost incurred by employers in the process (reimbursements for temporary replacements or overtime expenses) is considered to be negligible," the author of the article argued.
However, several companies surveyed by TeamLease seemed to be of the opinion that retaining an employee that way and bearing all the costs involved is not financially viable.
When the Act was passed, Akhila Shivdas, executive director for Centre for Advocacy and Research predicted this pushback from companies to Hindustan Times. She said, "The issue facing the implementation of the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act is in-built resistance from companies... India is struggling with the definition of employee and employers."