Child Care leave has virtually been rendered null and void

Childcare leave raised eyebrows among male employees of the Central government and women staff were greeted with sneers and sarcastic jabs; the ‘privilege’ was considered to be unwarranted and unmerited, writes SKumar.
Silently and surreptitiously the Union ministry of personnel, public grievances and pensions has played a trick on Central government women employees that reflects bureaucratic bungling and gender bias of scandalous proportions.
Many women employees are smarting under the insult heaped on them and their children, but are suffering meekly as they lack the wherewithal to take on the mighty government establishment.
The whole episode is mired in behind-the-scene manipulations by a bunch of officials clearly devoid of sensibilities and foresight. It all started with the best of intentions, but ended in an ignominious retreat throwing to the wind the Centre’s commitment to women and children.
One of the innovative recommendations of the Sixth Central Pay Commission was the childcare leave for Central government women employees. After the Centre accepted it and introduced the CCL with effect from 1 September, 2008, the Railway Board issued a letter (No. E {P &A}1-2008/CPC/LE-8 ~ dated 23.10.2008) detailing its objectives and salient features so that women working in railways can enjoy the benefits.
The letter stated: “Consequent upon the decision taken by the government on the recommendations of the Sixth Central Pay Commission relating to maternity leave and childcare leave, the President is pleased to decide that the existing provisions of the liberalised leave rules, 1949 may be treated as modified.”
It further stated that women employees having minor children may be granted childcare leave by an authority competent to grant leave for a maximum of two years during their entire service (period) for taking care of up to two children for rearing or looking after any of their needs such as examination and sickness.
Childcare leave won’t be admissible if the child is 18 years or above. The most crucial element of the new provision is that the leave “shall not be debited against the leave account” making it clear that the Union government realises the need for such a social investment for the physical and mental well-being of the country’s children.
The 23 October, 2008 order was clear on the issue. It stipulated that the leave account for childcare leave would have to be maintained in an enclosed proforma and it would be kept along with the employees’ service book.
The women employees hailed the new system as a boon that addressed a serious problem plaguing working women who have to double as wage earner for their families and mother bringing up their children. For years, working women have been complaining how hard pressed they are in attending to their office work and helping their children with their studies as the two-cheque family is a dire necessity for decent existence.
It’s a common sight women taking to their offices their children’s study material so that they can use their spare time to prepare answers to questions their wards find difficult to handle before their examinations. This often clashes with office work, but the women employees by and large have no choice but to sacrifice office work to the extent possible so as to serve the interests of their children.
This, however, doesn’t benefit much either the children or the office, since the hapless working women can’t do proper justice to the two kinds of assignments in the limited time and environment of their offices.
Again, many working women are often left with no option but to stay away from work during their children’s exams. They are forced to use up their statutory leaves so that they can to some extent play the role of conscientious mothers.
It was against this backdrop that the pay panel recommended the introduction of childcare leave to be availed of during children’s examinations and when they are sick needing the soothing hand of their mothers.
The railway women’s response was predictable. Within days after the order was issued, they started enjoying the new benefit.
And this reportedly raised eyebrows among a section of their male counterparts. Many of the women employees were greeted with sneers and sarcastic jabs by their male colleagues who considered the “privilege” to be unwarranted and unmerited. Jealousy, of course, led the male colleagues to have such a jaundiced view of the CCL.
Immediately, a silent propaganda was launched by such male employees and officers that work would be seriously hampered if one woman employee after another began to go on CCL.
A rearguard action was launched and it took just a little over three weeks to undo the novel system. An office memorandum was issued by the ministry of personnel, public grievances and pensions (No. 13018/2/2008-Estt.{L} dated 18 November, 2008) to “clarify” the whole matter.
It explained that the CCL was intended to “facilitate women employees to take care of their children at the time of need. However, this doesn’t mean the CCL should disrupt the functioning of Central government offices.”
Hence, the fresh order stipulated that “the CCL can be availed of only if the employee concerned has no earned leave at her credit.”
This means CCL has virtually been rendered null and void even after its successful introduction.
The clarification forced the women employees, who had already gone on leave as per the provisions of the CCL, to scurry back to office lest their absence is adjusted with other forms of statutory leave. Those who were about to forward their applications decided not to do so. The reason was simple: none of the women employees is prepared to use up their (hard) earned leave for helping their children with their studies, since that particular leave is normally used for emergency, while a maximum of 90 days can be encashed at the time of superannuation.
Several questions arise from the way the whole matter was handled. None of the women employees ever demanded childcare leave. It was the pay panel which thought it up and the Centre accepted the idea which is laudable indeed. Why did then the higher-ups in the Central government effectively nip it in the bud ?
True, many of the women were in a tearing hurry to avail of the leave and the absence of a large number of employees would surely disrupt office work. But throwing the baby with the bath water is not the solution. The original order made it clear that the leave “may be granted by an authority competent to grant leave” and that “it may be availed of in more than one spell”.
The implication of the order is crystal clear. It is up to the “competent authority” to decide on granting the leave ensuring that office work doesn’t in the process get affected.
Obviously, officers empowered to sanction the leave were not “competent” enough to grant the leave in a way so that both the needs of the children of working women can be taken care of and office work is done smoothly.
If they were “competent”, they must have failed to rise above gender bias. Male chauvinism is too deeply ingrained in society to be rooted out with government policies.
Surprisingly, the voluble Union minister for women and child development, Renuka Chaudhary, who is otherwise a staunch supporter of the cause of women, is still to open her mouth on the issue.
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