A bonanza awaits expecting mothers working across private sectors. The government has started to formally roll out the process of increasing the maternity leaves of pregnant employees from 12 weeks to 26 weeks.
While there is already a provision of 26-week or six-month maternity leave for the government employees, most private sector firms offer maximum three months of such leave. Besides, these benefits are not provided at all in many smaller establishments.
"There are certain establishments where they can get (the permission to work from home). But in other establishments they will get the facility of (26 weeks maternity leave) after amendment in the Act," Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya said.
A group of ministers led by finance minister Arun Jaitley accepted the labour ministry’s proposal to increase maternity leave for working women on 29 June. “We will now move the cabinet to get the proposal to amend the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 cleared,” said a senior labour ministry official.
Women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi met labour minister Bandaru Dattatreya on Wednesday and requested him to expedite the process.
If the Union cabinet clears the proposal, India will become one of the 40 countries where maternity leave benefits span more than 18 weeks. The International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Maternity Protection Convention mandates a minimum 14 weeks of maternity benefit to women but recommends that countries should increase it to 18 weeks.
According to ILO’s Working Conditions Laws Report 2012, among countries in Asia and the Pacific, 82% have legislation requiring from 12 to more than 18 weeks of maternity leave. Half of these countries legally stipulate 12-13 weeks of maternity leave, with more than a quarter (29%) providing 14- 17 weeks.
Recent statistics by ILO also showed that Indian women were leaving the workplace at a rate faster than anywhere in the world. Experts said paltry maternity leave and consequent pressure to return to the workplace was one of the reasons new mothers were forced to quit.
Gandhi wrote to Dattatreya last year, proposing the maternity leave currently granted to working women should be increased to eight months, so as to enable mothers to take better care of their newborns. However, the proposal was rejected.