In a country that is filled with contradictions when it comes to the role of its women — where women are both worshipped and killed in the womb, where women are increasingly expected to both earn their bread and manage domestic affairs with equal ease, Indian legislators decided to hand working women a well-deserved gift.
Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016
The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016, was passed by the Lok Sabha on March 9, 2017. The bill entitles women in the organised sectors of our country to avail paid maternity leave up to 26 weeks. Previously, the paid maternity leave for women was limited to 12 weeks. The bill had been passed by the Rajya Sabha nine months ago, and is now awaiting the President’s approval to be deemed a law.
With the passing of the bill, the maternity leave entitlement as prescribed in the The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, has been doubled. This will help protect the employment of women during their maternity and help produce healthier children, legislators argued. Over 1.8 million women in India will be benefitted from the new law.
Benefits to Women
According to the bill, all working women must be granted a fully paid maternity of 26 weeks for the birth of their first two surviving children. From the third child on, the maternity leave available will revert to 12 weeks, indirectly restricting the number of children born in the country.
In case of an employed women legally adopting a child (below three months of age), she shall be entitled to 12 weeks paid maternity leave from the day the child is handed over to her. The same benefit is also available to a commissioning mother who uses her egg to have a surrogate child.
Apart from this, the bill will also make it mandatory for businesses employing more than 50 employees to provide for a creche facility near the office.
The bill not only highlights the role of women in the Indian workforce, but also encourages women to take up employment as a means to financial independence. According to a 2015 NITI Aayog research paper, the labour force participation rate (LFPR) for women in India is only 22.5 percent while the overall LFPR is pegged at 44 percent.
The bill also makes provisions for states to amend the law and provide for a greater period of paid maternity leave, if they so wish.
India Moves Ahead
Labour and Employment Minister Bandaru Dattatreya who had initially tabled the bill also moved it for consideration in the Lok Sabha. Only 53 members were present in the House including 11 women MPs. Dattatreya added that the government will be taking a number of steps for the welfare of women working in the unorganised sectors.
When the bill receives the President’s nod, India will be placed in the third position in the world going by the length of maternity leave provided to working women. Currently, Canada is at the top with 50 weeks leave and Norway comes next with 44 weeks. It places India way above most other OECD countries such as Japan, France, Germany, Australia, and the US going by the paid maternity leave provided to women.
Prime Minister, Narendra Modi went on social media to call the bill a “landmark moment in our efforts towards women-led development”. Others have called it India’s gift to women on International Women’s Day.
In the debate preceding the vote (for passing the bill), a number of MPs made a strong case for adding paternity benefits. Sushmita Dev, Congress MP, said, “Since the employer has to pay the salary during the leave period, the amendment might turn out to be counter productive. Innovative thing to do would be to bring in paternity benefit”.
A few other MPs made similar statements adding that some states already provide for a paid paternity leave. The government is yet to consider the nuanced issue of paternity and scenarios such as single fatherhood and adoption.