Expecting mothers who are working in the organised sector can now avail 26 weeks of paid maternity leave instead of 12 after Parliament clearead the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016 Thursday. Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya said the Bill was a ‘humble gift’ to Indian women along with adding that it would be applicable to women working in Special Economic Zones as well. The bill, which had been passed by Rajya Sabha during the last Winter Session, is likely to benefit around 1.8 million women. Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi hailed the “historic” decision saying, “this will help thousands of women and produce much healthier children. We have been working on it for a long time.”
Watch Video |Budget Session 2017: Maternity Benefit Bill Passed By Lok Sabha
Here is what you need to know on the matter:
What are the salient features of the bill?
Apart from increasing the paid maternity leave for pregnant women, working in the organised sector, to 26 weeks from 12, the Bill allows 12 weeks of paid maternity leave to mothers who are adopting a child below the age of three months and also to commissioning mothers who opt for surrogacy. The leave will be calculated from the date the child is handed over to the adoptive parent or the commissioning mother.
How many child births are covered?
A pregnant woman can take eight weeks of paid leave before the due date of delivery and the remaining after that. The new maternity laws states that the 26 weeks of leave will be allowed for the first two pregnancies. For the third child, the paid leave entitlement will be of 12 weeks. The leaves further reduce to six weeks if the woman wants to become a mother for the fourth time. Read more here.
What about paternity leave?
The Bill has faced criticism for excluding paternity leave. Minister Maneka Gandhi had been embroiled in a controversy for saying that paternity leave will just be a holiday for men or fathers. This time around, the minister chose to exercise caution and refrained from commenting on the matter. The Congress, however, has been vociferously critical on this matter. “The Congress party condemns the fact that there is no recognition of paternity leave and this move fails to initiate attitudinal changes towards perception of women as bread earners. Such a move by the government stereotypes women into their traditional gender roles,” party spokesperson and MP Sushmita Dev said.
While speaking in Lok Sabha, Dev also said that the benefit burden may discourage employers to hire women. The Congress also claimed that the government had “wasted an opportunity to bring gender parity at the workplace.” Demands for inclusion of a non-discrimination clause in the bill were also made to ensure that no person is discriminated against for having availed any parental benefits. Read more here.
So where does India stand now?
With the passing of this bill, India now ranks third in terms of granting maternity leave to pregnant mothers. Canada grants 50 weeks of maternity leave while Norway grants 44.
But what about the unorganised sector?
Since the Bill covers pregnant women working only in the organised work sector, it ignores roughly 90 per cent of the Indian women who are employed in the unorganised sector. During the discussion on the Bill in Lok Sabha, MPs put forward their suggestions to include unorganised sector in the Bill. Some of the names include Alathur MP PK Biju and South Mumbai MP Arvind Sawant.
In 2015, the Law Commission of India had recommended that the original Maternity Benefits Act, 1961 must cover even those working in the unorganised sector which includes domestic workers, agricultural labourers, seasonal and construction workers. Women employed in the sector currently avail to maternity benefits offered under the Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana, which allows pregnant women to receive a sum of Rs 6, 000 for the birth of two children in order to compensation for loss of income. Apart from this, there are multiple labour laws that provide maternity benefits to women in different sectors and these laws differ in their coverage, benefits and financing of the benefits, reads a report from PRS Legislative Research.
India and Maternal Mortality Rate
India lags far behind when it comes to maternal and infant mortality indicators. Every third woman in the country is undernourished and every second woman is anaemic. An undernourished woman is most likely to give birth to a low-weight baby. The UN Millennium Development Goals Report 2014 states that India recorded the highest number of maternal deaths, and accounted for 17 per cent of global deaths due to pregnancy and childbirth-related complications (some 50,000 of 2.89 lakh such deaths worldwide). The Infant Mortality Rate also stands at a dismal 40 per 1,000 live births.