A day after the world celebrated the International Women's Day, the Parliament on Thursday passed a bill that will benefit about 1.8 million women
in India. The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016 was passed by the Lok Sabha, months after the Rajya Sabha approved the measure that takes India to the third position in terms of the number of weeks for maternity leave after Canada and Norway where it is 50 weeks and 44 weeks, respectively. While the bill has given many women
reasons to cheer, it has left others with a heartburn.
It is a “historic day for women”, the Ministry of Women
and Child Development said, adding that the Bill will “pave the way for a healthy and secure mother and a well-nourished child”. Women
and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi called it a “momentous step” and thanked her colleagues for supporting the Bill.
Top highlights of The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016
* The Bill aims to protect the employment of women
during the time of pregnancy
and entitles them to full paid absence from work to take care of their child
working in the organised sector will now be entitled to paid maternity leave of 26 weeks, up from 12 weeks
* The maternity leave beyond the first two children will continue to be 12 weeks
* The new law will apply to all establishments employing 10 or more people and the entitlement will be for only up to first two children. For third child, the entitlement will be for only 12 weeks.
* The bill also makes it mandatory for employers in establishments with 30 women
or 50 employees, whichever is less, to provide crèche facilities either in office or in any place within a 500-metre radius.
* The mother will be allowed four visits to the creche in a day. This will include her interval for rest.
* It also allows employers to permit woman to work from home if it is possible to do so
* Recognising that women
who adopt or use a surrogate to bear a child also need time to bond with the child in the initial months, the bill also extends a 12-week maternity leave to adapting and commissioning mothers.
* The commissioning mother has been defined as “one whose egg is used to create an embryo planted in surrogate’s womb (in order words - a biological mother).” The period of maternity leave will be calculated from the date the child is handed over to the commissioning or adoptive mother.
Demerits of newly passed The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016
The bill has left out surrogate mothers
from the benefit -- an issue over which the government had faced criticism from the opposition benches in the Rajya Sabha during the winter session. Moreover, the bill will benefit only a minuscule percentage of women, while ignoring the majority who are working as contractual labourers, farmers, self-employed women etc.
“Even if the law is fully implemented,” the activist told IPS
, “studies show that it will benefit only 1.8 million women
in the organised sector leaving out practically 99% of the country’s women
workforce. If this isn’t discrimination, what is? In India, women’s paid workforce constitutes just 5% of the 1.8 million. The rest fall within the unorganised sector. How fair is it to leave out this lot from the ambit of the new law?” asks Sengupta.
Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, opines that maternity benefits should be universally available to all women, including wage earners.
“But the act ignores this completely by focussing only on women
in the organised sector. In India most women
are waged workers or do contractual work and face hugely exploitative work conditions. They are not even recognised under the ambit of labour laws. The moment a woman becomes pregnant she is seen as a liability. The new law has no provisions to eliminate this mindset, ” Krishnan told IPS.
Lack of interest in 'Maternity Bill'
According to The Economics Times
the Lok Sabha had just 3 MPs, including 11 women
members, when the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016, came up for discussion in the House on Thursday. For all the eloquent speeches on women
rights, Labour and Employment Minister Bandaru Dattatreya moved the bill for consideration and passage in the Lower House in the post-lunch session when only 53 members were present in the House. They included 8 women
MPs from the Opposition and 3 from the treasury benches.
Creating gender neutral Bill
The Maternity Bill
allows even a male employee to take his child to a crèche, if it is far away from the mother’s workplace.
Participating in the debate, Sushmita Dev (Congress) said since amendments raise the period of maternity leave to 26 weeks from the present 12 weeks, it could act as a deterrent for the private sector to employ women
"Since the employer has to pay the salary during the leave period, the amendment might turn out to be counter productive. The innovative thing to do would be to bring in paternity benefit," she said.
She said such a benefit can also be extended to single fathers who adopt a child.
Pritam Munde (BJP) said a father also has equal responsibility towards the child like a mother and paternity benefits would help a couple to raise their child together as majority are now nuclear families.
Ratna De Nag (TMC) too made a case for paternity benefit and said her state government in West Bengal is already providing paternity leave for 30 days.
Tathagata Satpathy (BJD) termed the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016, a social bill and said instead of reducing the period of leave from 26 week to 12 week after the second child, the Centre should say that up to third child there would be 26 week leave and after that no leave. He too sought paternity benefits.
The bill will now be sent to the President for his assent before it becomes an Act.