The High Court of Kerala has held that contract employees in government-funded establishments are entitled to maternity leave in the same manner as government servants. The judgment was given by Justice Anu Sivaraman while considering the plea of women engaged on contract service by the government. Some of the petitioners were working on contract basis in the Additional Skill Acquisition Programme under the Higher Education Department of the Government of Kerala, and the others were working under the Inclusive Education for Disabled Secondary Stage under the Rashtriya Madhyamic Siksha Abhiyan of the MHRD.
They were given maternity leave for only 135 days and were asked to re-join duty after the expiry of leave period. They claimed that they were entitled to 180 days of leave provided for government servants under the Kerala Service Rules. It was also urged that they were entitled to 26 weeks of leave as per the provisions of Maternity Benefit Act 1963. This was opposed by the government stating that the service conditions of employees of contract employees permitted the grant of 135 days of maternity only. This was further limited to 90 days as per order issued on 11.04.2017.
Rejecting the contentions of the government, the court held that limiting maternity leave to only 90 days amounted to discrimination against woman employees only for the reason that they are engaged in projects in contractual capacities. The inalienable obligations of maternity should not and cannot be a reason to deny equal opportunities to woman employees. This precisely would be the result of limiting maternity leave to women employees, irrespective of the nature of their employment, Justice Anu Sivaraman observed in the judgment.
The government also raised a plea of hardship on the ground that grant of 180 days of leave to contract employees engaged for one year period would be detrimental to the projects. However, the court noted that such an issue did not arise in the case, as the petitioners’ were continuing for long on the basis of the successive extension of contract. Hence, this contention was also rejected.
For reaching its conclusions, the court relied on the precedent of Kerala High Court in Mini v Life Insurance Corporation of India where it was held that a mother can’t be compelled to choose between her motherhood & employment and that State can’t discriminate against her ‘Right To Dignity’ as mother.
Hence, a positive direction was issued to the government to grant 26 weeks of maternity leave to the petitioners.