A bill providing for enhancement of maternity leave from 12 to 26 weeks was passed today by the Rajya Sabha, in a step aimed at benefitting about 1.8 million women in the organised sector and increasing the strength of the working women force.
Once the new law is enacted, India will jump to third position in terms of the number of weeks for maternity leave after Norway (44) and Canada (50), said Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya while replying to a debate on the legislation.
The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016 was passed by voice vote by the House, even as some members sought norms for paternity leave also so that parents can share the responsibility of raising children.
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.
The new law will be applicable to all establishments employing 10 or more people. The Bill provides for increasing maternity benefit from 12 to 26 weeks for two surviving children. Cabinet had yesterday given ex-post facto approval to the amendments made to the Maternity Benefits Act.
Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi said her ministry had recommended raising maternity leave from 12 weeks to 8 months but it was considered too long for the employer. The legislation will go a long way in ensuring that the future generations are healthier, she said as she noted that after giving birth, a woman’s body needs to heal over a period of time. “It is a very stressful time for the mother, who should be with the child”.
Highlighting that there are more nuclear families now, 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.
She said the government is thinking of introducing direct benefit transfer for women and it is “under consideration”.
By Dhriti Sharma