The Karnataka Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Rules, 2019, brought into force on August 8, 2019, have introduced Rules 6(A), 6(B), 6(C) and 6(D) which mandate every employer to provide and maintain a creche, in consonance with Section 11A of the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961.((As amended by the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017))
It lays down several guidelines pertaining to provision of creche facility to be adhered to by every establishment. The Rules, as framed, do come as a welcome step in addressing majority of the employees’ interests, such as extension of the facility to children of all employees, irrespective of their gender and nature of work. The rules also ensure health, safety and holistic welfare of children of the employees by prescribing heat, rain & water-resistant material for construction of creche and supply of at least 250 ml of pure hygienic milk per child & other refreshments every day at the creche.
However, the rules are ambiguous and create extreme practical constraints for implementation on several fronts.
- The rules mandate every employer to have one creche for every 30 children below the age of 6 years.
- This impliedly obligates employers to proportionately multiply the number of creche where employees availing the creche facility increase. In order to reduce this additional burden of administrative cost, few employers might prefer models of either outsourcing operation or building and operation of creche within the premises to external entities. The rules are, however, grey with regard to permitting or executing aforesaid models by the employers.
- Further, employer (through the creche) is also obligated to conduct periodic medical examination of every child at the creche.
- This might create consent related concerns for parents of the children, besides inflating administrative costs for the employer.
- Additionally, while the rules have made the creche facility gender neutral, they still limit provisions for visits to the creche only to the mother. The rules also extend the benefit of creche to contract workers, a welcome initiative for the contract workers but an additional cost for the principal employer. This may discourage both principal employers and contractors from engaging employees with young children.
- The creche facility, with an outdoor play space, is to be provided within the premises of the establishment or within 500 metres from the entrance gate of establishment.
- The rules neither address nor provide for an alternative to the above requirements. In metropolitan areas, where extreme space constraints exist, this may very challenging to implement.
- Further, women workforce who commute from long distances would prefer to utilise creche facility near their residence. Compelling such employees to avail creche facility of the establishment would be impractical and contrary to the spirit of the Act.
- The rules, however, are silent on accommodating contingencies such as providing recognition and reimbursement to or partnering with such other creche providers, who meet other criteria as laid down by the rules.
- By creating no leeway for discretion by the employers in application of rules to benefit the employees, the rules increase probability of prosecution by labour enforcement authorities in aforesaid cases.