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Sixth Pay Commission: Class and Gender Bias

The Sixth Pay Commission has recommended a liberal increase in maternity and childcare facilities - a welcome move. It has however specified only women, thus making childcare the mother's responsibility alone. Even the present entitlements are implemented only in the government and public sector, largely ignored in the private sector and not available at all to a majority of women in the unorganised sector though some states have made attempts to cover the latter. The central government has also ignored the National Labour Commission (2002) report that emphasises the State's share in providing maternity entitlements in different sectors rather than making it the employer's liability alone.

COMMENTARYapril 4, 2009 vol xliv no 14 EPW Economic & Political Weekly22Mina Swaminathan ( is adviser on education, communication and gender to the M S Swaminathan Foundation, Chennai.Sixth Pay Commission: Class and Gender BiasMina SwaminathanThe Sixth Pay Commission has recommended a liberal increase in maternity and childcare facilities – a welcome move. It has however specified only women, thus making childcare the mother’s responsibility alone. Even the present entitlements are implemented only in the government and public sector, largely ignored in the private sector and not available at all to a majority of women in the unorganised sector though some states have made attempts to cover the latter. The central government has also ignored the National Labour Commission (2002) report that emphasises the State’s share in providing maternity entitlements in different sectors rather than making it the employer’s liability alone. The Sixth Pay Commission has made recommendations relating to ma-ternity and childcare – only within its terms of reference involving workers in the service of the central government. However, the government’s total and uncritical acceptance of these recom-mendations exposes its class and gender prejudices and needs to be critically scrutinised. Maternity LeaveThe liberal increase of maternity leave to 180 days from the present 135 days, along with the possibility of continuing it for a maximum period of two years, even (ex-ceeding the International Labour Organi-sation (ILO) norms), is a long-awaited change especially in the context of univer-sal agreement on the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. However, it is the application of the rec-ommendation which raises doubt. For, the announcement comes in the context of a female labour force in the organised sec-tor which is a little less than 10% of the total, and has entitlement to maternity leave. In recent years feminist economists have debated the underestimation of the size of this labour force. The scepticism rests on a strong statistical base – the Cen-tral Statistical Organisation’s (CSO) Time Use Study – which shows that women spend far more time than indicated byCSO data in productive but “unpaid” work (the latter does not enter the System of National Accounting). Since this work is not monetised it is not included in the gross domestic product or in conventional labour surveys. Again, only government and some pub-lic sector employees can be sure of the present entitlements; the implementation of the law is seriously wanting in the pri-vate sector. Women employees and unions generally shy away from demanding these entitlements for fear of being thrown out of their jobs should they do so. Some estimates (Hirway 1986) suggest that as few as between 1.5% and 2% of “working women” get this “benefit” as it is still quaintly termed. But academics and activ-ists today both prefer the term “entitle-ments” to benefits on the grounds that the women concerned are not taking leave to enjoy any privileges or perquisites but are merely exchanging one kind of work for another – that of childbearing and child rearing.A Neoliberal ParadigmWhat is the context in which this minus-cule fragment of the female labour force is being singled out for additional “bene-fits”? There is no provision of any mater-nity and childcare entitlements (at the na-tional level) for the vast majority of wom-en in the unorganised sector, and for the additional number of “invisible” women workers identified by the Time Use Study, except for the meagre Rs 500 provided by the National Maternity Assistance Scheme, and which is barely enough to cover the immediate expenses of childbirth. It cer-tainly cannot provide for any woman stay-ing away from the labour force to care for or breastfeed a newborn. However, half a dozen state governments have made at-tempts to provide some financial assist-ance to pregnant women and lactating mothers, but usually under stringent con-ditions related to factors other than the health and welfare of either mother or child. A remarkable example is that of Tamil Nadu which gives Rs 6,000 (calcu-lated as Rs 1,000 per month for six months) to pregnant women below the poverty line (BPL) beginning from the eighth month of pregnancy. This is a maternity entitlement scheme for poor women in the unorgan-ised sector that needs to be welcomed and replicated in other states.For more than a decade various groups ranging from trade unions and workers’ cooperatives in the unorganised sector to women’s groups, women’s movements, child rights groups, health movements, people’s movements, medical profession-als, and international networks have all been clamouring for precisely such mater-nity entitlements. The National Labour Commission’s report (2002) had outlined a comprehensive four-tier scheme to address needs at different levels, allowing for
COMMENTARYEconomic & Political Weekly EPW april 4, 2009 vol xliv no 1423dichotomies like employed/self-employed, unorganised/organised sectors, BPL/APL (above poverty line), low-middle-high income, and statutory/voluntary schemes. The report attributed the failure of the present legislation to the provision of making maternity entitlements entirely the employer’s liability. It has proposed different forms of shared liability, with emphasis on the State’s share, in the con-text of Article 42 which says that the State shall make provision for securing just and humane conditions of work and for mater-nity relief. The issue has come up in every version of the Unorganised Sector Workers Social Security Bill presented to Parlia-ment and has not been resolved satisfacto-rily yet with only sops like advisory serv-ices and insurance schemes (the latter now launched) being offered. Arun Gupta (National Coordinator, Breastfeeding Pro-motion Network of India) has recently cal-culated that the entire cost of providing maternity entitlements at Rs 1,000 every month for six months to all women below poverty line would only amount to Rs 4,056 crore. But the government has so far re-fused to heed these arguments.It would seem therefore that the bene-fits are restricted to a handful of women at the top of the social ladder (since even em-ployees of state governments, semi-gov-ernmental organisations, autonomous corporations and parastatals may not qualify) while the needs of poor women go unrecognised and unmet. Is this “inclu-sive growth” or yet another outcome of the neoliberal paradigm – the rich get richer while the poor get poorer?Childcare LeaveComing to the second provision aimed specifically at women, a new type of leave has been introduced called “childcare leave”, for a maximum of two years (730 days) during the entire service period of a woman, for up to two minor children (up to the ages of 18 years). It is also clarified that the term “care” is not to be interpret-ed narrowly but includes examinations, sickness, etc.This can only be described as an unim-aginably retrogressive step, since it ap-pears to be based on the assumption that all parenting responsibilities/tasks are the woman’s sole responsibility. Even a limited observation of Indian social cus-toms and culture, confirmed by empirical studies, would show the variety and importance of roles that men at all levels still play in child rearing and parenting, varying according to age and gender of the child, as well as class, caste, ethnic, religious and occupational group, at dif-ferent stages and in relation to different matters. Men who neglect their families or are indifferent to them, especially chil-dren, are widely regarded as irresponsible and unworthy of respect. Expectations that men will be role models for their sons are almost universal and there is vast lit-erature on the damage done to children, especially to growing boys, whose fathers are absent, unavailable or indifferent, and who fail to participate in the pro-cesses of parenting. In cultural terms then, male participa-tion, especially that of the father, is the norm in child rearing. In biological terms, the major role has to be played by the motheronly in the first two years of life, first because of the importance of exclu-sive breastfeeding during the first six months and then of continued breastfeed-ing up to two years of age. But after the age of two, there is hardly any activity re-lated to childcare that cannot be per-formed by either sex. However, in India and indeed in almost societies, the bulk of the actual “work” related to childcare is usually left to women. Why is the work of childcare so widely perceived to be that of women alone? The short answer is – a deeply patriarchal outlook.Patriarchal NotionsWhen Karl Marx first spoke of the “repro-ductive labour” of women, he was not re-ferring to the biological tasks of childbirth and child rearing alone, but to those of re-producing the next generation of labour. In other words, of rearing and preparing future labourers. This work of reproduc-tion of the human race, in effect, was di-vided into two broad areas – the first known variously as housework, home management, or homemaking and the second classified as care. And this repro-ductive labour fell to women, in addition to their employment in workplaces. But though Marx specifically used the word “labour”, the male-dominated perception that neither housework nor childcare in-volve much by way of “work” has contin-ued to prevail. It is only with the rise of feminist thinking and the women’s move-ment that this view has been challenged. The first asks why these tasks have to be performed exclusively by women, and the second has struggled worldwide in the last century to persuade and convince men to share them equitably. After all, there is no evidence to suggest that women have an unbearable biological urge to engage in housework!Feminist discourse has helped to create growing recognition of the multiple roles of women – in the productive and repro-ductive domains, leading to what is known as the “double burden”. In the 1980s, this burden was sometimes referred to as the “three C’s” – cooking, cleaning and child care. However, women in the third world have always had to cope with much more – housework, for example, includes gath-ering water, food, fuel and fodder for do-mestic animals, collecting, preparing and processing food, homestead and tool maintenance and so on. “Care” too has come to be recognised as far more than childcare – the definition now encompass-es care of the aged, sick, and disabled as well as domestic animals, and as involv-ing considerable work. Ironically, the West is now “outsourcing” care – whether in the form of institutionalised professional serv-ices or imported domestic help (again mostly female) from the third world. Economists have reluctantly begun to take note, since the cost of care, institutional or personal, can now be computed, and the economic value of such services by women can now rightfully enter the gross national product (GNP). Are Indian statisticians and economists taking note?A Deadly MixtureIronically, this negative announcement, undermining a century of struggle by the women’s movement, has come at a time when there is an increasing clamour for “paternity leave”, emphasising that even at the time of childbirth, there are important social roles and familial expec-tations by and from men. And it has come from the same government which con-stantly talks about gender mainstreaming, gender budgeting and other fashionable
COMMENTARYapril 4, 2009 vol xliv no 14 EPW Economic & Political Weekly24terms. What about some plain old gender justice for a change? Starting with child-care leave for either parent?And why are men silently allowing themselves to be painted as unfeeling, heartless wretches who want to have nothing to do with their own children? It is not the women’s movement which is doing this male- bashing after all.So let us see this for what it is – a deadly mix of class and gender prejudice, and let all concerned with justice come together to continue the struggle – for maternity entitlements forallwomen, in all sectors, starting with poor women in the un-organised sector; for crèches at all levels for women struggling withmultiple burdens, starting with the Integrated Child Development Scheme; and for op-portunity for men to prove that they are not child haters.Lessons for Integration of Health ProgrammesMathew GeorgeMathew George ( is at the School of Health Systems Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.The experience gained by the integration of the leprosy eradication programme with the general health services has many lessons to offer in the context of the National Rural Health Mission’s objective to combine the national health programmes for various diseases.The programme for leprosy control in the country started in 1955. How-ever, recent developments in the programme call for a critical analysis. The initiative to integrate leprosy control activities with general health services gained momentum with the popularisation of the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM). With the introduction of multidrug therapy (MDT) in 1983, the programme was re-named as an initiative to eradicate the dis-ease completely by 2000 (Pandey et al 2006). Elimination of a disease is defined as the stage when its prevalence reaches less than 1 per 10,000 populations. A significant decline in the number of cases has been re-ported since then. In 2001 the second phase of the National Leprosy Eradication Pro-gramme (NLEP) started with the objective of decentralising its activities and which ulti-mately initiated the process of integration with the general health services (ibid). The need to integrate various disease control programmes with the general health servic-es has been voiced from various quarters for more than three decades now. It is impor-tant to learn from the experience of leprosy control in the current context when one of the major objectives of the NRHM is to inte-grate various national health programmes with the general health services. The current article is an attempt to examine the issues and challenges involved in such integration in the context of the leprosy control activi-ties and the NRHM.Evolution of the ProgrammeThe leprosy control programme was cen-trally aided and its pace was slow until the introduction of MDT in 1983. The strategy then was based on the endemicity of the cases with vertical structures like survey education and treatment centres, leprosy control units and urban leprosy centres. In each of these, paramedical workers were given the primary responsibility of sur-veillance (active) carried out through house-to-house visits. The strategy for case identification was survey, education and treatment (SET) that involved identifi-cation of the cases from the field, provid-ing awareness of the disease to those affected and making sure that they con-tinued the treatment (Banerji 1985: 118). The non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have also been playing a vital role all through the history of leprosy control in the country. Around 290 voluntary organ-isations are presently actively engaged in leprosy relief services with 127 of them involved inSET activities and of which 50 are covered by the SET grant from the government of India.1 Earlier, theNGOs were involved in almost all aspects like case detection, treatment, public aware-ness creation, training, disability preven-tion and so on. Once the programme took off, only those areas where the govern-ment was not able to provide services were covered by these NGOs, thus keeping their role to a minimum. Despite this, the con-tribution of the NGOs must be acknowl-edged for its strong component of training rooted in experience and an efficient system for disability prevention (Lockwood and Suneetha 2005). Three is thus a need to redefine and situate the role of NGOs in the programme after integration.Integration: Some Concerns Integration implies that leprosy control activities become the responsibility of the general health services as part of routine day-to-day activities. Integration was influ-encedby the international acceptance of primary healthcare approach, the World

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