SBI changes recruitment norms; won’t hire women more than 3 months pregnant; rules not changed for disabled

SBI’s pregnancy-related amendment is a stark change from its earlier guideline which stated that women candidates up to 6 months pregnant could be appointed, in absence of any complications

SBI changes recruitment norms; won’t hire women more than 3 months pregnant; rules not changed for disabled

Ashlin Mathew

In a blast from a regressive past, the State Bank of India’s revised guidelines for employment, circulated on January 12, 2022, state that a woman candidate who is more than three months pregnant will be considered temporarily unfit and she “may be allowed to join within four months after the delivery of the child”.

Additionally, the recruitment guidelines continue to discriminate against people with disabilities.

The pregnancy-related amendment is a stark change from the bank’s earlier guideline which stated that women candidates could be appointed in the bank up to six months of pregnancy, provided the candidate furnished a certificate from specialist gynecologist that her taking up bank’s employment at that stage was in no way likely to interfere with her pregnancy or the normal development of the foetus, or was not likely to cause her miscarriage or otherwise to adversely affect her health.

SBI changes recruitment norms; won’t hire women more than 3 months pregnant; rules not changed for disabled
SBI changes recruitment norms; won’t hire women more than 3 months pregnant; rules not changed for disabled
SBI changes recruitment norms; won’t hire women more than 3 months pregnant; rules not changed for disabled

The guidelines to recruit pregnant women were issued in October 2009, when the country’s largest national bank had withdrawn a 30-year-old discriminatory norm.

In the instructions (Letter No. CDO/IR/SPL/289 dated 16.09.2009), the bank had stated that pregnancy should no longer be treated as a disability for immediate appointment or promotion.

The directive came after a public outcry from women’s organisations in Kerala, efforts by the State Banks Staff Union (SBSU) and a letter addressed to the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh by the then Kerala Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan.

However, going back on decades of progress, the SBI has now issued guidelines effectively banning pregnant women candidates from applying.

“The practice is discriminative against women and will be detrimental for women,” said Jagmati Sangwan, former general secretary of All India Democratic Women’s Association.

Several of the existing rights for women have come after severe struggles and this notification, added AIDWA general secretary Mariam Dhawale, comes in the backdrop of women's groups trying to preserve the rights they have achieved so far.

AIDWA underscored that it amounted to breach of Constitutional provision and they have demanded the immediate withdrawal of these anti-women guidelines.

The guidelines with respect to pregnant women being hired are discriminatory at two levels, points out human rights activist Venkatesh Nayak. “First, there is no rationale provided in the guidelines as to why there is a change in the earlier policy of allowing women who were six months into their pregnancy to be hired. What was acceptable until the date of these revised guidelines doesn’t seem to be acceptable anymore,” he said.

“Secondly, if the basic principle is that a woman who is pregnant three months or more will be deemed unfit for hiring for service, what about women who are already employed with SBI who would become pregnant or are currently three months pregnant? After 3 months of pregnancy, will they also be considered unfit for service and will they be not paid for doing their job?” Nayak added.

The State Bank Staff Union in Kerala has sent a letter to the bank headquarters in Thiruvananthapuram requesting them to change the guidelines. "The new guidelines are discriminatory against women candidates and also our current employees. We are hearing that these new guidelines will be applicable for promotion too. But, we are unclear as to how these new guidelines will be implemented," remarked the State Bank Staff Union in Kerala.

The SBSU pointed out that the proposed amendment asking a woman employee to join within four months after deliver is against the existing six months maternity leave facility available for women employees of the bank.

Under the 30-year-old sexist norms, which existed until 2009, SBI used to insist on women candidates and serving women to undergo medical examination at the time of recruitment/ promotion to determine whether they were pregnant and submit a declaration giving details of their menstrual cycle so as to defer posting/promotion during pregnancy.

Women candidates were also required to declare their menstrual history and give an undertaking on any evidence of pregnancy and history of any disease of the uterus, cervix, ovaries or breasts.

The second issue in the latest SBI recruitment guidelines is with the category of persons with disabilities. The existing guidelines state that only the following categories of physically challenged persons will be recruited in clerical cadre: loss of one arm, provided the candidate can write and work with the other hand; loss of leg(s), provided the candidate can move with artificial leg, crutches, wheelchair.

However, these recruitment guidelines are in violation of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, which states that at least 4% of the total number of vacancies in government establishments in specified categories (and 1% in certain others) must be reserved for their employment.

Physical disabilities have been defined as those falling under blindness or low vision, deaf or hard of hearing and locomotive disability including cerebral palsy, healed leprosy, acid attack victims, dwarfism and muscular dystrophy, autism and multiple disabilities.

“If anybody were to take this matter to court, there is a strong possibility of the court striking down these guidelines as being inconsistent and in clear violation of Section 35(1) of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016,” said Nayak.

He went on to add that the revised guidelines related to pregnant women were also open to challenge in the High Courts as they violate Article 14 of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to equality and equal treatment of all persons before the law.

National Herald has emailed questions to the human resources department of SBI. The article will be updated if and when they respond.

Female Labour Participation in India

The SBI directive will only make it more difficult for pregnant women to enter the workforce. Since 2020, the state of the India’s female workforce has only worsened. The country dropped by 28 places in the 2021 Gender Gap Index and was ranked 140 out of 156 countries, specifically based on the level of its women’s economic participation and political empowerment.

The latest SBI 2022 directive comes at a time when the Modi government’s own report had stated that female labour participation rate in India fell to 16.1% during the July-September 2020 quarter.

Additionally, the percentage of women in the labour force had fallen to a record low of 15.5% during the April-June 2020 quarter.

According to Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, women accounted for 10.7% of the workforce in 2019-20 but and suffered 13.9% of the job losses in April 2020, the first month of the lockdown due to the pandemic.

Based on CMIE data, economist Ashwini Deshpande calculated that the steepest fall in employment happened during the lockdown in April 2020, when employment numbers crashed to 28.2 crore in April 2020 from over 40 crore in January 2019-March 2020.

By November 2020, men recovered most of their lost jobs but women were less fortunate. “At least 49% of the job losses by November were of women. The recovery has benefitted all but it benefitted women less than it did for men,” stated Mahesh Vyas, CEO of CMIE.

Another grave statistic from CMIE in November 2020 stated that labour force contractions among urban women increased to 27.2% as compared to 2.8% for urban men.

For urban women, total employment in India also reduced by 22.83% between November 2019 and 2020.

From 2005 to 2019, female labour participation declined to 20.79 from 31.79 in 2005, according to World Bank estimates.

In the aftermath of demonetisation in 2016, 24 lakh women fell off the employment map while 90 lakh men came into jobs, said Vyas to IndiaSpend.

Such grave policy failures will only prove costly and exacerbate exclusion of women, who pay the highest price during any major economic downturn.

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