Following widespread outrage, the State Bank of India on Saturday withdrew a controversial order that termed women into their second trimester of pregnancy as “unfit” for recruitment and promotions. The country’s largest public sector bank said it would return to status quo in appointments.
However, its employees union is not satisfied with the response as the earlier norms too discriminate against pregnant women.
In an e-circular issued on December 31,2021, the SBI had informed its local offices across the country of its revised medical standards. According to these norms, a woman who is pregnant for more than three months would be considered “temporarily unfit” and would be allowed to rejoin work only four months after delivering a child.
Following several representations from different employee unions, as well letters from the Delhi Commission for Women to SBI Chairman Dinesh Kumar Kara, and Shiv Sena MP Priyanka Chaturvedi to Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and outrage over social media, the bank issued a statement suspending these instructions.
“SBI has decided to keep the revised instructions regarding recruitment of pregnant women in abeyance and continue the existing instructions in the matter,” it said.
However, the bank’s earlier rules, too barred recruitment of pregnant women. The rule stated that pregnant women, “may be appointed in the Bank upto six months of pregnancy, provided the candidate furnishes a certificate from specialist gynecologist that her taking up Bank’s employment at that stage is in no way likely to interfere with her pregnancy or the normal development of the fetus, or is not likely to cause her miscarriage or otherwise to adversely affect her health.”
“Pregnancy should not be a bar. Our demand is that even the rule for women who are pregnant over six months should be progressively changed as pregnancy is not a disease,” K.S. Krishna, General Secretary, All India State Bank Employee’s Association, told The Hindu.
The Union also says that the new rules are an attempt to deny women their right to maternity benefits under the Code of Social Security, 2020. This entitles a woman to payment of average daily wage for upto 26 weeks of maternity leave, nursing breaks, permission to visit a creche four times a day as well as renders unlawful any attempt by the employer to discharge a pregnant employee.
In her letter to the Chairman of SBI, Chairperson, Delhi Commission for Women Swati Maliwal too called the circular “illegal” for violating the Code of Social Security, 2020. Ms Chaturvedi in her letter to the Union Finance Minister demanded that such detrimental policies should not be implemented.
Discriminatory policies are not new for the nationalised bank. Until 2009, the SBI used to insist that women undergo a medical examination at the time of recruitment and promotion to determine whether they were pregnant and submit a declaration giving details of their menstrual cycle, an undertaking on any evidence of pregnancy and history of dieases of the uterus, cervix, ovaries or breasts. Following a letter to the Prime Minister from then Chief Minister of Kerala, V.S. Achuthanandan, and efforts by the Staff Union, the SBI decided to do away with this declaration and give postings to woman upto the six month of pregnancy.