Employers in both government and private sectors will soon be required to provide crèche facilities for employees, either on the office premises or within a 500-metre distance.
The Ministry of Labour is expected to introduce a new provision in the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, which will mandate all establishments with 30 women or 50 employees, whichever is less, to ensure employees have access to crèches in the vicinity.
“The crèche facility would be universally applicable to all establishments, whether public or private, such as call centres, media houses, IT firms and shops. These crèches can be created either on a firm’s premises or two or more firms within 500 metres can pool their resources and create a community crèche,” said sources. Officials said the proposed move is aimed at increasing women’s participation in the workforce post childbirth. “We are hoping to bring in the amended Bill in the budget session of Parliament,” said an official.
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The ministry has also proposed that women adopting children aged less than three months as well as those who opt for having a child through a surrogate should be eligible for 12 weeks of paid leave.
The ministry is expected to seek cabinet approval for the amendments soon.
Until now, it was only the Factories Act, 1948, which made having a crèche compulsory in factories.
Labour ministry sources said they have deliberately kept their provision gender-neutral by using the word ‘employees’ instead of ‘women’. “There might be situations where the mother’s workplace is further away from home.
In such cases, fathers can take their children to the crèche at the workplace. Moreover, we want to promote a culture where childcare is as much as a father’s responsibility as it is the mother’s,” said an official.
As is the case in the Factories Act, it will be the responsibility of labour inspectors to ensure compliance. However, even within the limited scope of the Factories Act, not only has enforcement been poor, there is no consolidated data available with the central labour commissioner on compliance. Labour ministry officials said they will make it mandatory for labour inspectors to file inspection reports online on a quarterly basis.
The Maternity Benefit Act states that every woman who returns to work post-delivery should be allowed two breaks in the course of her day for nursing her child until he or she is 15 months old. However, a 2012 study showed that of all the women interviewed, a mere 4 per cent said they received the nursing breaks.