By Nimish Sany*
At the core of the argument for crèches,lie the notion of a child’s vulnerability and the shared responsibility of the parents and the State to ensure his/her protection. But how far have we managed to bring this argument to fruition? In the backdrop of falling women participation rates in the labour force, how could crèches help turn the tide? Is it fair to hold the employer responsible for the employee’s welfare? What is the State’s role, and how are the odds stacked against the modern working woman?
It was not until the IT revolution and the late 2000s that the concept of crèche figured in the priorities of the government. Part of this was attributed to the dip in economic indicators, which revealed a decline in female labour participation rates from 34.1 per cent in 1999–00 to 27.2 per cent in 2011–12. The government swung into action by exploring several schemes like the Anganwadi cum crèches and the Rajiv Gandhi National Crèche Scheme&.
A European Union(EU) study explains why a country could invest in childcare services; a classical argument was that quality childcare services would influence female participation in the labour force positively. Another hypothesis was that it would improve economic growth and female workforce participation, as affordable and quality childcare services would significantly reduce the cost of having a child, in terms of career opportunities. However, years of centrally sponsored schemes have failed to arrest the decline in women participation rates,which continues to alarm authorities and policymakers of the incongruity between the intention and outcomes of crèche schemes.
Where crèches fit in
In Kerala, female unemployment is the highest, and female labour participation rates are falling, despite high education attainment rates for women. Studies conducted in developed economies such as Baldwin and Presser (1980)find that the presence of young children in the family limits a married woman’s participation in the workforce. The lack of joint family support or affordable childcare could force working parents, especially in low-income households, to be at home rather than the workplace. A quality crèche that is affordable while also accessible from the workplace can significantly benefit both employers and employees. However,it is imperative to understand why crèches remain a rarity even today.
Confined to rule books
The Kerala Shops and Commercial Establishments Rules, 1961 mandates that shops and establishments employing 20 or more women should provide crèches at the workplace or within accessible distance from the workplace. The inclusion of crèches as one of the provisions and the stipulation of the distance to ensure accessibility are laudable.However,some scrupulous sections of the Act compel employers to consider crèches as a quixotic and rather unfeasible affair.
Source:An excerpt from the Kerala Shops and Commercial Establishments Rules, 1961
The stipulations are flawed in the sense that they fail to acknowledge that most employers do not have disposable spaces or assets for providing crèches, as most shops are either rented or leased. The Act does mention shared crèche facilities, but the outdated Act often overlooks the practical difficulties in an urban milieu.
Responsibility for crèches
EU envisages crèches as an integral part of the overall development of a child.Even the didactic rhetoric of legislations, stipulated down to the detail, reveals the State’s intention to place a clear hand of morality in providing crèches. If crèches do further a child’s integrated development and protect the child from vulnerability, as the idea propounds, does the government see a role in contributing towards the child’s development and in ensuring his/her protection? The argument places crèches well out of the ambit of the employer.
It could be argued that the employer also share the responsibility of providing crèches as a basic welfare provision.However,it would require the collective community of workers to follow a ‘crèche culture’, which, in turn, requires awareness and facilitation as prerequisites.
The Model Shops and Establishments Act, approved by the Centre in 2016, eases the liability of the employer by mandating crèches only for those shops and establishments that employ more than 30 women or 50 workers. In addition, the Central Government’s proposed Labour Code on Social Security and Welfare, which aims to amalgamate numerous existing social security laws into a single code, sets forth that the welfare board attached to a State Government should provide the necessary funds for crèches and employee’s transportation among other welfare provisions. While the Code will likely shift the cost factor from the employer to the welfare board(s), it leaves out on the sharing of responsibility and enforcement. The State Governments, while legislating, should be heedful of the existing situations to avoid making the same mistake twice.
The Government of Kerala, if it ever deems crèches necessary, should employ a multi-pronged approach in implementing reforms with regard to crèches. It should also be mindful to make use of the Rajiv Gandhi National Crèche Scheme, under which more than 200 crèches run across Kerala, especially as the State continues to receive assistance from the Centre&. The quality of such crèches is also a major determinant of the success of such programmes, as the trend of sending children to private schools for pre-school education is on the rise.
It is well evident that both the employer and the government share the responsibility for providing crèches or welfare. However, the responsibility should not be limited to contributions to the welfare fund, but be extended to the implementation of welfare provisions. It would be unfair to hold employers responsible, while it would not be pragmatic for the government to both provide and enforce welfare. However, it would be judicious to attach the responsibility to the Kerala Shops and Commercial Establishments Workers Welfare Board.
The Model Shops and Establishments Act is a progressive move, as it takes into account the contemporary demands and dynamics of the market. The business-friendly legislation also provides more economic freedom and flexibility for the workers. It is time for the State Governments to undertake sober legislations towards the implementation of the Act, if it is to ensure that the welfare provisions do not remain a pipe dream.
Nimish Sany is Research Assistant at Centre for Public Policy Research. Views expressed by the author is personal and does not represent that of CPPR
This article was first published in eSocialScience: The Curious Case of Crèches: Whose Responsibility is it?
‘Women’s labour force participation in India: Why is it so low?’, Sher Verick, ILO,http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—asia/—ro-bangkok/—sro-new_delhi/documents/genericdocument/wcms_342357.pdf
Rajiv Gandhi National Creche Scheme for the Children of Working Mothers
‘The provision of childcare services: A comparative review of 30 European countries’, European Community Program for Employment and Social Solidarity, PROGRESS (2007–2013)
‘Education, Employment, and Job Preference of Women in Kerala: A micro-level case study’, Lakshmy Devi K R, Centre for Development Studies
‘Child Care as a Constraint on Employment: Prevalence, Correlates, and Bearing on the Work and Fertility Nexus’, Harriet B Presser, Wendy Baldwin
‘Need Assessment for Crèches and Child Care Services’, Forum for Crèches and Child Care Services( FORCES) and Centre for Women’s Development Studies (CWDS)