Amended maternity law goes a long way, but has a long way to go still

The new law allows maternity leave up to 12 weeks for women who adopt a child below the age of 3 months, and for commissioning mothers (in cases of surrogacy)

Written by Shalini Nair | New Delhi | Updated: March 16, 2017 8:31 am
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The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2017, passed by Parliament last week, has made 26 weeks of paid maternity leave mandatory for all women employed in the organised sector. The more than doubling of the existing entitlement of 12 weeks has lifted India to a small group among the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO’s) 186 member states with the most progressive maternity leave policy.

The new law allows maternity leave up to 12 weeks for women who adopt a child below the age of 3 months, and for commissioning mothers (in cases of surrogacy). It also makes childcare a socially-shared responsibility by making it mandatory for employers with 50 or more employees to provide crèches in close vicinity of the workplace, and by allowing women up to four daily visits to the crèche.

While all these aspects make for a milestone legislation on the road to reducing gender inequality at work and bringing down maternal and infant mortality in India, the amendment of the 46-year-old law still leaves out the vast numbers of women in the informal sector, and in smaller, fragmented establishments.

It also fails to acknowledge the need for paternity leave, especially in view of the “double burden” on working women who still have to shoulder a disproportionate share of unpaid caregiving. As per UNDP’s Human Development Report 2015, women clock 297 minutes of unpaid work daily, compared to just 31 minutes for men.

The government concedes that the new law will benefit just about 1.8 million women in the organised sector, thus leaving out 90% of the female labour force that is employed in the unorganised/informal sector — these are women who also do not have any security of employment or income.

This lacuna in the existing Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, was pointed out in a Parliamentary Standing Committee report in 2007. The Committee had recommended that the existing law be made universally applicable until the government could bring a separate law to cover women in the unorganised sector. The amendment in the law has not taken this recommendation on board.

The panel had also recommended relaxation of the condition that only establishments employing over 10 people would have to give mandatory maternity leave. “In the era of globalisation”, it noted, “with the fast advancement of technologies and computerisation, the requirement of employing 10 or more persons in establishments to avail the benefit of the Act has become irrelevant”.

The panel also pointed to the increasingly nuclear structure of families to push for paid paternity leave. This suggestion too has not been accepted in the amended legislation.

The ILO records that all countries offer some form of paid maternity leave; the exceptions being Suriname and Tonga which have no provisions for any leave following childbirth. The US and Papua New Guinea offer unpaid leave. In most developed countries, maternity leave wage benefits are paid through social insurance and public funds, while in the developing nations it is often the liability of the employer.

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  1. D
    Mar 16, 2017 at 4:11 am
    Its a good move initially the more the mother is with the child the better it is. They should also stress on Paternity leave too.
  2. H
    Mar 16, 2017 at 12:45 am
    Long paid maternity leaves may work in societies which want to promote people having children to increase their potion. It certainly is an anachronism in overpoted India. What we need are jobs for women, that brings them dignity. These kind of laws are putting the cart before horse!!
  3. J
    Mar 17, 2017 at 2:50 pm
    And also for private sector
  4. J
    Mar 17, 2017 at 2:49 pm
    Please provide GO for maternity leave extension to 26weeks as company not allowing us for the same.
  5. S
    Sreesheel Sreekumar
    Mar 16, 2017 at 8:03 am
    The law should in the future also consider the unorganized sector ! Apart from this the government should take the Women's Reservation Bill out of the cold storage ! The 33% reservation may be brought down to 25% in discussion with all parties ! If the government is able to p this bill, it will be a landmark achievement for the Modi government ! It would endear it to women voters across the country ! Reservation within this reservation and all other issues can be dealt with later !
  6. O
    Mar 17, 2017 at 9:37 am
    Another overdue woman-centric welfare measure which is overdue and would rather go well with the letter and spiit of the Women's Day celebrations in various organisations in the country, is facilitating work from home for the working mpthers, to begin with. SBI appears to have taken this laudable measure. Giant PSU Company like LIC having office centered jobs mostly can also think of introducing this work from home facility for their working mothers to begin with at the very earliest, making the offers at their city branches initially... Other companies can also gradually follow suit. Many lectures given regularly in this context. Time has come now indeed to introduce some complementary measures for women welfare also as stated above.
  7. V
    v singh
    Mar 16, 2017 at 5:59 am
    Women, get ready to loose jobs, reduced employment, discrimination,;br/gt;This is a populist law brought in, just like increasing retirement age to 60 by Vajpayee-BJP govt earlier. I agree with Harkol that it is detrimental to productivity and growth of our society.
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