Rajya Sabha on Thursday passed a bill that provides for 26 weeks (close to six months) maternity leave. Even as some members sought norms for paternity leave so that parents can share the responsibility of raising children, MPs across the party lines voted in the favour of bill. The maternity benefit will now increase from 12 to 26 weeks for two surviving children, a move that would benefit about 1.8 million women in the organised sector.
The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016, which was moved for consideration and passage by Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya, was passed by a voice vote. The legislation passed will be applicable to all establishments employing 10 or more persons.
“The very purpose of this Bill is to increase the working women force because in the work force, participation of women is decreasing day by day,” Dattatreya said.
Citing the maternity leave rules prevalent in various countries, the Labour minister said post the enactment of the Bill, India will jump to the third position in terms of the number of weeks (26) for maternity leave, behind Norway (44) and Canada (50).
Highlighting that there are more nuclear families now, Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi said the Bill has its roots in malnutrition, as breastfeeding the child is recommended which is not possible unless the mother is in physical proximity of the child.
“After giving birth, a woman’s body needs to heal over a period of time,” Maneka Gandhi said adding “it is a very stressful time for the mother, who should be with the child”. The Women and Child Development Ministry had recommended raising maternity leave from 12 weeks to 8 months but it was considered too long for the employer.
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 for her child.
Besides enhancing maternity leave to 26 weeks, the law includes 12 weeks maternity leave to a Commissioning mother and Adopting mother and mandatory provision of crèche in respect of establishment having 50 or more employees.
Hailing the legislation, Congress MP Rajni Patil called it a progressive bill but sought the government to address the “hidden biases against working women”.
TMC member Dola Sen stressed the need for paternity leave as well saying it will result in sharing of the responsibility of the child by parents. At the same time she stressed that maternity benefits should also be extended to working women in the unorganised sector. While, JD(U)’s Kahkashan Parveen sought steps to ensure that factory and mill workers benefit.
Supporting the bill, Tapan Kumar Sen (CPI-M) said government should ensure that its benefits are extended to the grassroot as barely 30 per cent women were benefitting from the existing legislation. The senior MP pointed out that at many places women are forced to suppress their marital status to clinch jobs, an issue which should be addressed.
Vandana Chavan (NCP) while supporting the Bill, pointed out that the provision of 50 employees was in conflict with the Factories Act provision that entails mandatory crèche facility for establishments having 30 or more women.
However, Dattatreya clarified that the provision of 50 employees will be applicable to even those organisations which do not have a single woman employee, highlighting that even a man can bring a child to the office creche.
(With inputs from the PTI)