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Rajya Sabha passes Bill to raise maternity leave to 26 weeks

  • The Rajya Sabha on Thursday passed a Bill that gives 26 weeks of maternity leave to working women and 12 weeks to commissioning mothers and an enabling provision of "work from home" for nursing mothers.

    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 measure seeks to increase maternity benefit from 12 to 26 weeks for two surviving children that would benefit about 1.8 million women in the organised sector.

    "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.

    According to him, the law is applicable to all establishments employing 10 or more persons. Citing the maternity leave rules prevalent in various countries, Dattatreya 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).

    According to Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi, 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.

    Moreover, after giving birth, a woman's body needs to heal over a period of time, she said, adding "it is a very stressful time for the mother, who should be with the child".

    Observing that the legislation will go a long way to ensure that the future generations are healthier, Gandhi said 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 Minister said the Government was thinking of introducing direct benefit transfer for women and it was "under consideration".

    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.

    Cabinet had yesterday given ex-post facto approval to the amendments made to the Maternity Benefits Act, that aims to raise maternity leave for women from 12 weeks to 26 weeks.

    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 crèches.

    Chavan also sought paternity leave to remove the gender bias prevalent in the society.

    Jaya Bachchan (SP) urged the Minister to consider enhancing maternity leave to 8 months, pointing out that the seventh month of pregnancy was extremely crucial for a woman whereas a child starts teething in the seventh month after birth.
     
    Anu Aga (Nominated) also demanded provision for paternity leave to sensitise men towards their responsibilities.

    Satish Chandra Mishra (BSP) sought clarity on whether surrogate mothers were included in the Bill, to which Gandhi replied that "since the purpose of the Bill is actually to bond with the child, she (surrogate mother) is not covered."

    Pointing out that the infant mortality rate was high in India due to lack of care and malnutrition, Ashok Siddharth (BSP) said that after enactment of the Bill, women will benefit and the mortality rate will come down.

    D Raja of the CPI said that while he supported the content and intent of the Bill, Government should not stop at this as more than 96 per cent of the women are in unorganised sector and should consider similar provisions for agricultural workers who mostly belong to Dalit or tribal communities.

    Narendra Budania (Congress) said 26 weeks’ period was "not adequate" and suggested that it should be raised to a year.

     

    OUR TAKE

    It is a good news for both expecting female employees and their employers as this would ensure security to both of them. Expecting female employees will now have greater freedom of devoting more time on nurturing their baby and facilities like work from home and crèches establishment will allow them job security and their companies or employers will now have the solution of greater employee retention and productivity at the same time. 


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