Pregnant women working in the government and private sectors can soon look forward to increased maternity leave, helping them balance professional commitments with personal lives and potentially stemming the exodus of expecting mothers from the workplace.
After year-long deliberations, the Centre has begun the process of fixing maternity leave to 26 weeks -- six-and-a-half months -- across sectors.
This is more than double the leave mothers get in the private sector: 12 weeks or three months. Maternity leave for government workers is six months.
A group of ministers headed by finance minister Arun Jaitley gave the green signal to the labour ministry’s proposal to increase maternity leave for working women on Wednesday. “We will now move the cabinet to get the proposal to amend the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 cleared,” said a senior labour ministry official.
Women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi met labour minister Bandaru Dattatreya on Wednesday and requested him to expedite the process.
If the Union cabinet clears the proposal, India will become one of 40 countries where maternity leave benefits span more than 18 weeks.
The International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Maternity Protection Convention mandates a minimum 14 weeks of maternity benefit to women but recommends that countries should increase it to 18 weeks.
According to ILO’s Working Conditions Laws Report 2012, among countries in Asia and the Pacific, 82% have legislation requiring from 12 to more than 18 weeks of maternity leave.
Half of these countries legally stipulate 12-13 weeks of maternity leave, with more than a quarter (29%) providing 14- 17 weeks.
Recent statistics by ILO also showed that Indian women were leaving the workplace at a rate faster than anywhere in the world. Experts said paltry maternity leave and consequent pressure to return to the workplace was one of the reasons new mothers were forced to quit.
Gandhi wrote to Dattatreya last year, proposing the maternity leave currently granted to working women should be increased to eight months, so as to enable mothers to take better care of their newborns. However, the proposal was rejected.
The seventh pay panel rejected the demand to increase both the maternity and paternity leave granted to government employees.