A bill increasing maternity leave from 12 to 26 weeks was passed by the Rajya Sabha on Thursday, a step that benefits about 1.8 million women in the organised sector and aims at increasing the strength of the working women force.
The bill, which will now go to the Lok Sabha, will lead to the ratification of International Labour Organisation convention number 183 that provides for at least 14 weeks of maternity benefit to women.
It also facilitates ‘work from home’ for nursing mothers once the leave period ends and has made creche facility mandatory in respect of establishments with 50 or more employees.
Employers will have to allow women employees to go to the creche four times during duty hours, which will also include her rest period, the bill said.
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), labour minister Bandaru Dattatreya said while replying to a debate on the legislation.
Speaking before the bill was passed, Dattatreya said a maternity bonus of up to Rs 3,500 will also be given to women staff.
The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016 was passed by voice vote, even as some members sought norms for paternity leave 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. On Wednesday, the cabinet had given ex-post facto approval to these amendments.
“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.
Women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi said her ministry had recommended raising maternity leave from 12 weeks to eight 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”.