Parliament passes Maternity Benefit Bill increasing paid leaves up to 26 weeks

A day after the world celebrated the International Women's Day, Lok Sabha made a historic move of passing the Maternity Benefits (Amendment) Bill, 2016  increasing the maternity benefit of paid leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks. The bill shall benefit about 1.8 million women in India.

With the passage of this bill, India is now at third position in terms of the number of weeks for maternity leave after Canada and Norway, where it is 50 weeks and 44 weeks, respectively.

Labour and Employment Minister Bandaru Dattatreya moved the bill for consideration and passage in the Lower House with only 53 members, including 11 women, who were present in the House then.

"This is my humble gift to women, a day after the world celebrated the International Women's Day," said Bandru after about 4-hour debate during which some members demanded paternity benefits too, arguing that these days most of the children are born in nuclear families where both the father and the mother have to take care of the child.

Previous Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 protected the employment of women during the time of her maternity, securing her with full paid absence from work to take care of herself and her child.

The present bill is more of a social bill drafted to protect women employment and granting them ample amount of time to take care of the child and to fully recuperate before she returns to work. The highlights of the bill are-

  • Women working in the organized sector are now entitled to “paid maternity leave” of 26 weeks.
  • It is applicable only up to first two children. For third child, the entitlement will be for 12 weeks only.
  • New bill applies to all establishments employing 10 or more people.
  • The bill also makes it mandatory for employers in establishments with 30 women or 50 employees, whichever is less, to provide crèche facilities either in office or any place near the office (within a 500-metre radius).
  • The mother will be allowed four visits to the crèche in a day, including her interval for rest. This way she can take care of the child even during work.
  • If possible, the employers must allow woman to work from home
  • If a woman uses a surrogate to bear a child or adopts a child below the age of 3 months, she will be entitled to 12-weeks maternity leave, recognizing that they also need time to bond with the child in the initial months. This provision will facilitate adoption.
  • Every establishment must intimate in writing and electronically to every woman at the time of her initial appointment about the benefits available under the Act

The Prime Minister said that the passage of the bill in the lower house is a landmark moment in their efforts towards women-led development. Now it only awaits President’s assent before it become an applicable law.

This Bill will help ensure career growth and continuity for working women in India now.

Though the bill is good news for women, it has refrained from talking about the father’s responsibility towards raising the child. Paternity benefits must also be considered by law-makers for a larger scope of healthy parenting, specially single fathers who wish to adopt a child.

 

Rohan Mahajan 
on 14 March 2017
Published in Labour & Service Law
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