New Delhi: The Union cabinet on Wednesday approved a proposal that seeks to grant six months’ maternity leave to women employees—double the time off they get now after childbirth.

The cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, also approved 12 weeks’ maternity benefits to a “commissioning mother" and “adopting mother". A commissioning mother is one who gets a baby via surrogate mothers. This is a completely new provision that forms part of the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016, which the labour ministry wants tabled and passed during the current session of Parliament.

“Maternal care to the Child during early childhood (is) crucial for growth and development of the child," a cabinet statement said. The ministry of women and child development had suggested enhancing maternity benefits to eight months, but during consultations, all stakeholders including government departments, employees and employer representatives agreed on six months’ benefits.

The aim, labour ministry officials said, is twofold—to help women devote time to take care of their babies and enable an increase in the women’s labour force participation (WLFPR) rate in India. The labour force participation rate (LFPR) in India is around 40%, but for females, it is only 22.5%. The gap in male-female labour force participation 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.

Once approved by the Parliament, the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016 will mandate opening crèches in all companies having 50 employees or 30 women employees whichever is lower. The cabinet said that the bill also seeks to “facilitate work from home".

The cabinet also gave ex-post facto approval for amendment of the Factories Act, 1948 by introducing the Factories (Amendment) Bill, 2016 in Parliament. The amendments relates to increase in overtime hours from the existing 50 hours per quarter to 100 hours (Section 64) and existing 75 hours per quarter to 125 hours (Section 65) in some urgent situations. The Lok Sabha passed the bill on Wednesday.

Ashwaq Masoodi contributed to this story.