Grant Maternity Leave To Contract Employees In Government Departments, Says Kerala High Court
In a landmark judgment, the Kerala High Court held women employees working in the government sector on contract basis should also be entitled to maternity leave as is due to those under the Service Rules, applicable to state and Central Government servants.Justice Anu Sivaraman issued the order on the petitions filed by P V Rakhi, Nayarambalam, Ernakulam and others seeking directives to the state to grant six-month maternity leave to them as is being granted to the state government employees. The petitioners had applied for maternity leave during the period of their employment but it was rejected by the government.
The court said it was not in dispute women employees directly employed by the government would be entitled to 180 days of maternity leave, going by the provisions of the Kerala Service Rules (KSR).
“The benefits of enhanced maternity leave to woman employees are undoubtedly a piece of welfare legislation intended to give women equal opportunities in public employment. The contention the contract employees under the projects are entitled only to 90 days of maternity leave cannot be countenanced since it would amount to discrimination against women employees only for the reason they are engaged in projects in contractual capacities,” the court observed.
Citing an earlier High Court order, the petitioner argued grant of leave to fulfil essential maternal obligations involves an essential human rights issue and the state is duty-bound to address the special needs of women employees working in the organised and unorganised sectors. The right to maternity leave was an essential element of the fundamental right to life as far as a woman employee is concerned, they submitted.
According to the state, the petitioners would not be entitled to 26 weeks of maternity leave as provided in the Maternity Benefit Act or the 180 days of leave as provided in the Kerala Service Rules since the petitioner was a contract employee under a project and they would not be entitled to the benefits of either of the provisions. It was stated teachers under the scheme as well as under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan are entitled only to three months’ maternity leave going by the government orders in force.
The court observed the inalienable obligations of maternity should not and cannot be a reason to deny equal opportunities to women employees. The further contention the contractual appointment of the petitioners has a duration of only one year and the grant of six months’ paid leave would obliterate the benefit to the project of the engagement was also not tenable because the petitioners are persons who are continuing in service on the basis of the successive extension of the contract.
The court also said that arguments of the state the petitioners were entitled only to 90 days of maternity leave cannot be justified. The petitioners will also be entitled to maternity leave as is due to women employees under the Service Rules applicable to State and Central Government servants and to women employees under the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961. The court also set aside the order of the state government denying leave as per Rules and directed to grant 26 weeks of maternity leave to the petitioners.