Parliament approved a bill granting women working in the organized sector, a paid maternity leave of 26 weeks, a decision which will benefit around 1.8 million women, on 9th of March.The law will apply to all establishments employing 10 or more people and the entitlement will be for the first two children. For the third child, the entitlement will be 12 weeks.
With this, India becomes the country with the third highest maternity leave. Canada and Norway grant 50 weeks and 44 weeks respectively as paid maternity leave.
The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016 was passed by Lok Sabha on Thursday. Rajya Sabha had passed this bill in August last year. Labour minister Bandaru Dattatreya has said earlier that while framing the rules, he would try to ensure that pregnant women got maximum benefits. “This is my humble gift to women, a day after the world celebrated International Women’s Day,” he said after a four-hour debate during which some members demanded paternity benefits too. They argued that these days most children were born in nuclear families where both the father and mother have to take care of the child.
Women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi said this is a major step towards empowering women. “I am very, very happy we have made history today. This will help thousands of women and produce much healthier children. We have been working on it for a long time,” she said.
The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 protects the employment of women during the time of her maternity and entitles her full paid absence from work to take care of her child. Also, the bill provides for 12 weeks of maternity leave to a woman who legally adopts a child under three months of age and a commissioning mother (defined as a biological mother) who uses her egg to have a surrogate child.
The bill also has made it mandatory that every establishment with 50 or more employees should provide creche facilities within a prescribed distance. The woman will be allowed four visits to the creche in a day. This will include her interval for rest. One more provision has been added to the bill that is an employer can permit a woman to work from home, if the nature of work assigned permits.
Observing that Labour Ministry falls in the Concurrent List, the minister appealed to states to ensure all benefits reach women.
Participating in the debate, Congress’s Sushmita Dev said since amendments raised the period of leave to 26 weeks from the present 12 weeks, it could act as a deterrent for the private sector to employ women. “Since the employer has to pay the salary during the leave period, the amendment might turn out to be counter-productive. An innovative thing to do would be to bring in paternity benefit,” Dev said. One should know that West Bengal already provides paternity leave for 30 days to the workers in its state.