New Delhi: Women employees in the organized sector will now get six months of paid maternity leave, more than double the entitlement so far, after the Lok Sabha on Thursday amended the law on maternity benefits.
Terming the move a “gift on International Women’s Day”, labour minister Bandaru Dattatreya said the legislation will have far reaching consequences both in terms of child care and female work force participation in India.
The Maternity Benefit Amendment Bill 2016 had been pending in Parliament for nearly nine months.
The labour force participation rate (LFPR) in India is around 40%, but for females, it is only 22.5%. The gap in male-female LFPR is such that the LFPR for rural women above 15 years is only 35.8%, while for rural males it is more than double at 81.3%, according to a 2015 research paper by the government policy think tank NITI Aayog.
To be sure, the 26 weeks of paid leave will be available to women for the first two children, after which they will be entitled to just 12 weeks of paid leave.
Besides working women, the move will also be beneficial for children’s health. “This will enable them (women) to exclusively breast-feed the child for 6 months, which is critical for the good health of the child. The mother will also be able to take care of her own health and fully recuperate before she returns to work. This benefit will be available for two children,” Union child development minister Maneka Gandhi said in an online post.
N.K. Premachandran, a member of parliament from the Revolutionary Socialist Party, while supporting the six-month leave provision, said by limiting the enhanced benefit to two children, the Union government was “indirectly putting restrictions on the number of children one can have”.
Commissioning and adopting mothers will get three months of maternity leave, a first in India, as per the legislation.
The new legislation also mandates the opening of crèches in all companies that have 50 employees or 30 women employees, whichever is lower, and facilitate “working from home” for new mothers.
The Union government is expected to formally notify the new legislation in the next few days after obtaining the signature of the President. Rajya Sabha passed the bill in August 2016.
Dattatreya, meanwhile, said states could amend the central law and allow women employees more than six months of paid leave if they wished.