In one of its recent decisions, the Kerala High Court ("Court") in Rasitha C.H. vs State of Kerala and Others1 has reinstated that merely on the basis of being contractual employees, women cannot be deprived of the maternity benefits. The judgement has been propounded by Justice A. Muhamed Mustaque.
Rasitha ("Petitioner") has been working as an Assistant Professor at the Calicut University ("Respondents") on contractual basis since past one decade. The Petitioner had joined the professorship in the year 2008 and since then her contract has been renewed several times. On the expiry of the last contract, the Petitioner was reengaged with effect from August 2017 for a tenure of one year.
At present, the Petitioner has been denied of the maternity benefits on the grounds that the terms of the agreement with the Respondents are silent on such benefits.
The fundamental question that has arisen in the present scenario is whether mere absence of a contractual obligation with respect to maternity benefits to a woman can devoid a woman of such benefits.
Decision by the Court
The Court was of the view that maternity benefits are not merely a statutory benefit or a benefit flowing out of an agreement. This form of benefit is attached with the dignity of a woman. Justice A. Muhamed Mustaque while tracing the history of the Court, placed reliance on Mini vs. Life Insurance Corporation of India2 and Rakhi P.V. and Others vs. State of Kerala & Another3 ("Rakhi's Case") wherein it was held that a woman cannot be compelled to choose between motherhood and employment.
The Court further negated the contention of the Respondents which stated that since the Petitioner is a contractual employee, the Petitioner could claim a maximum of fifteen days of casual leave during the tenure of one year and abstention from duty on account of medical conditions of maternity.
The Court stressed on Rakhi's Case, wherein it was held that women employees working on contractual basis cannot be denied maternity leave. The court stated that, " In Rakhi's case (supra) it was held that a woman employee cannot be denied maternity benefits merely because her status is a contractual employee. Therefore, the University is bound to grant such benefits notwithstanding anything contained in the agreement of contract."
In light of the above stated observations, the Court allowed the Petitioner's plea and directed the Respondents to pay the maternity benefits due to the Petitioner.
1 WP (C) No. 5507 of 2018
2 2018 (1) KLT 530
3 2018 (2) KHC 251
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