A government panel headed by the women and child development (WCD) secretary has recommended a review of the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, with a view to increase the number of days of leave that a woman worker can take. It has also suggested giving the employee the choice of utilising the period of paid absence as per her convenience.
However, the panel has not spelt out by how many days the maternity leave should be increased.
"It would be the government along with a stakeholder ministry like the WCD which will have to take a final call," said a government official.
Presently, central government employees are eligible for up to 180 days of maternity leave with full pay benefits. For state government employees, the paid leave period varies from 120 to 135 days. In the private sector, the period is of a maximum of 84 days.
The panel has also recommended an amendment to the Maternity Benefit Act to ensure that employers do not terminate the service of a woman during the period of her pregnancy under any pretext to avoid providing maternity benefits.
It has also suggested strengthening and undertaking gender sensitisation among existing committees for labour law implementation.
"The committees should be made functional and special cells formed within existing committees to monitor the implementation of legislation for women workers," the report states.
These recommendations were made by a working group on women's agency and employment, which will form the basis of the 12th five year plan on women and child development issues presently being finalised by the Planning Commission.
Besides the WCD secretary, other members of the group include secretaries of various ministries like health, labour, etc.