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Maternity benefit, big leap forward - Deccan Herald
Maternity benefit, big leap forward
Bengaluru, March 15, 2017, DHNS
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Parliament's approval of The Maternity Benefit Amendment Bill, 2016, is a long overdue step in the right direction. It provides for paid maternity leave of 26 weeks for women employed in the organised sector, up from the current 12 weeks. The enhanced leave will ensure that the mother can give her newborn baby her undivided attention during the crucial first six months of the infant's life. By making it mandatory for employers to pay her full salary during this period, the government has ensured that she will have the means to take care of the baby too.

The amended bill provides for 12 weeks of paid maternity leave for commissioning mothers, who have a child through surrogacy, and women who adopt a child below the age of three months. It also requires establishments with 50 or more employees to provide crèche facilities within a prescribed distance. The mother will be allowed to visit the crèche four times in a day. India deserves applause for this progressive legislation; it now stands third in the world with regard to the number of weeks of paid leave a new mother is entitled to. It eases to some extent the pressure on women to manage responsibilities as mothers and employees. Such pressure often forces women to make a choice between motherhood and employment. A study by industry body Assocham, found that at least a quarter of employed Indian women are forced to give up jobs after having a baby. This often means loss of much needed financial resources to take care of the baby and the family. The Maternity Benefit Amendment Bill, 2016, frees women of this dilemma at least during the first six months of her newborn's life. It should reduce post-pregnancy attrition rates among women in the country.

The new law will impact around 1.8 million women. While this is welcome, this is a small number as it includes only establishments employing 10 or more people in the organised sector. Millions of women employed in the unorganised sector - around 90% of the country's female labour is employed in this sector as domestic helpers, construction workers, agricultural labourers etc - have been left out by the new law. The government has erred grievously by ignoring them; they are the most vulnerable section of our society.

It is possible that employers anxious to evade providing women employees with paid maternity leave would avoid hiring women in the first place. The new law could thus deepen prejudice against women in the workplace. The government must ensure that this does not happen as it would undo the benefits of the new maternity leave law.