On March 9, Lok Sabha passed the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016, under which women workers will get paid maternity leave of up to 26 weeks, up from 12. The law is expected to help 1.8 million women in the organised sector, but will completely bypass women such as construction worker Laxmi, employed at a construction site in Delhi’s East Vinod Nagar for Rs 200 a day. Around 10 months ago, Laxmi gave birth to Krishna, the youngest of her three children. She has two other children, 3 and 5
1. Did you get a break from work before and after your delivery?
I kept working until a few days before my delivery and then went home to Chhatarpur. I returned a month later. But women workers usually do not take such long breaks. We work till the eighth or ninth month of our pregnancy. There are instances of pregnant women working in the morning and delivering their babies in the evening. We can rarely afford more than seven to eight days of rest. On the ninth day, most of us are back at work.
2. How difficult was it to work during your pregnancy?
I would tire very easily and feel dizzy often. But I had no choice but to keep working. As the months advanced, it became difficult to lift heavy things. But our employer was kind enough to give me lighter jobs such as sweeping and cleaning.
3. Who takes care of children while the women are working?
Who else but the mother? When Urmila and Dasrath were born, I had no one to help me. I would keep them under a shade at the construction site and breastfeed them whenever they cried or were hungry. At least now, Urmila and Dasrath are around to keep an eye on my daughter Krishna when I am at work.
4. Do you get a weekly off at your construction site?
No, I work all seven days. Anyway, we live right here (pointing to a row of shanties at the site). I cannot afford to take a break. I earn Rs 200 a day and I don’t get paid for the days I don’t work. I have three children to take care of. Who will feed my children if I stop working?
5. What do you expect from your employers or the government?
I want the government to do something for illiterate women like us too so that we can get some rest before and after our deliveries… And something for our children too. Look where we live. This drain (that runs parallel to their shanty) gets flooded and the sewage comes right into our homes.