With the Rajya Sabha passing the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016, on Thursday, all working women in the country will soon be entitled to six months maternity leave. Until now, women were granted a maternity leave of three months.
However, the six months maternity leave has left school managements worried. With women forming 90% of the workforce, stakeholders fear that like the aviation industry, schools will insert clauses in the teachers’ contract to not get married or conceive for a stipulated period.
“My talks with a few principals of private schools about changes to their recruitment process in the light of the bill were scary. Screening of teachers based on their marital status, quizzing them on their private lives during job interviews might become the norm if the government doesn’t ask schools to budget,” said Francis Joseph, director, RMinds Education, a school consultancy.
“We all might have to ask teachers not to plan pregnancies in the middle of the academic year or hire older women who already have kids,” said Lina Ashar, chairperson, Kangaroo Kids Education Limited, adding that the bill puts additional pressure on schools when they are already struggling to make ends meet.
“It is a catch-22 situation. Being a woman, I understand that women need to have time-off, but you have to think about the ramifications of that many paid leaves for an organisation and the child who develops an emotional bond with the teacher,” she said.
According to Ashar, investment in the education sector has already trickled down because of the Right to Education (RTE) Act and School Fee Regulation Act. “Schools are going to lose money and shut shop if this continues,” she said, adding, “We do not get anything at subsidised rates, neither land, nor electricity.”
She added that her company allows staff to work from home, on compassionate grounds for three months in cases where women have no support systems at home.
While some educators said that schools must revise their budgets and make alternative arrangements such as hiring substitute teachers for six months, others fear it will put a strain on their resources. “If a teacher goes on leave and we bring in a substitute, we will have to pay two salaries,” said Vandana Lulla, director and principal, Podar International School, Santacruz.
Finding a substitute is tough. Some schools will rope in parents or teachers from other institutes to share the workload for primary classes. “Substitute teachers don’t cost as much as a regular teacher, but there is a crunch of good teachers, especially to teach the secondary classes,” said Freny Mehta, principal, Alexandra Girls’ English Institution, Fort. The school has been granting its staff six months maternity leave from the past three years.
Frequent teacher changes might be unsettling for smaller children as they are extremely sensitive, said parents. “My daughter is in pre-school. It took a while for her to adjust to her class teacher. If a replacement is brought in, it will disrupt her studies,” said Malika Acharya, a parent from Navi Mumbai.
+ “Schools don’t allow teachers to merge their maternity leaves with the school vacations. Three months leave is allowed on paper, but often, they have to attend school at least for a month,” said Kasturi Prabhu, a Spanish teacher, adding that teachers can’t ‘work-from-home’.