Many women have hailed the Maternity Benefit Bill, which was passed in the Parliament on Thursday, as they will now be entitled to paid maternity leave of 26 weeks, up from 12 weeks. The Bill is an amendment to the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961.
According to the new amendment, women working as permanent or contractual workers will get 26 weeks of maternity leave. It also takes into account adopting mothers and commissioning mothers i.e. "biological mother who uses her egg to create an embryo planted in any other woman."
"When I delivered my child, only 12 weeks were permitted for paid maternity leave. It would have helped if there were more. Talking from the point of view of a manager, not having senior employees for six months is difficult, but motherhood doesn't happen overnight. We will get enough time to prepare a second in-charge before an in-charge takes their leave," said Arpita Mandal, Deputy Nursing Superintendent (DNS) of CMRI Hospital, Kolkata.
The DNS works in an industry that has primarily female employees and still hails it as a welcome change. Of the 650 nursing staff, only three or four are expecting mothers in a year, she added.
In the past, many women had to leave their jobs after finding it difficult to work in organisations that don't have flexi-timings, work from home or day care on the premises.
"Every establishment with more than 50 employees to provide for crèche facilities for working mothers and such mothers will be permitted to make four visits during working hours to look after and feed the child in the crèche. The employer may permit a woman to work from home if it is possible to do so," the Bill reads.
Bandita Agnihotri, who has a two-year-old baby, found it hard to take care of the child despite taking some months' unpaid leave apart from the paid leave. She had to eventually leave her marketing job.
"If you have to go back after three months, it's too early for the kid. Six and half, seven months is when the child is slightly more independent. He is on solid food and can express better. It's easier to leave the child with someone else. At three months, the child is still breast-fed or bottle-fed," she said.
On the other hand, some corporates have already introduced family-friendly policies like six-month maternity leave and work from home apart from paternal leaves.
"This is a welcome change. Most progressive corporates already have adopted this practice. We have had six month maternal leave for a while now, work-from-home is already there. A lot of corporates tie-up with day care that are close by. This is a welcome change for those who have not already started this. Organisations, including Nielson, was supportive. I worked-from-home after maternity leaves got over," said Anika Badyal, associate director at Nielson.
Aditi Bhatnagar, 30, a former FSSAI employee, shed some light on female employees in the public sector. "While permanent employees got up to two years of paid leaves, contractual employees got far less. They got only three months of leave without pay. A working mother now doesn't have to discontinue breast-feeding. If I have to leave my three-month-old child and come to work one feels guilt for not being able to give their 100 percent to work or their child."
"We are not doing justice to any of our parts. Now, the government has made it mandatory. Also, there are many mothers who start thinking about how to manage both before delivery. Many would-be mothers resigned before delivery. This Bill will help in ensuring employment for women," she added.
India currently has only 27 percent female workforce, far below the global average of 50 percent, according to the World Bank. The number of working women has also been steadily falling in rural areas, according an Indian Express report. The number of working women in urban areas was always low.
According to the National Sample Survey (68th Round) in 2011-2012, 24.8 of every 100 women worked in rural areas. Whereas 54.3 of every 100 men worked in rural areas. In urban areas, to every 54.6 employed men, there were just 14.7 working women.
The maternity Bill passed by the Parliament will be of great help to those working in the organised sector, while those working in the unorganised sector, which is 90 percent of working women in India, will not be included despite there being discussions on it when the Bill was in the Lok Sabha.
Female domestic workers, agricultural labourers, seasonal and construction workers can avail benefits offered under the Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana, which allows pregnant women to receive a sum of Rs 6,000 for birth of two children to compensation for loss of income.
These are the salient features of the bill:
(i) Maternity leave available to the working women to be increased from 12 weeks to 26 weeks for the first two children.
(ii) Maternity leave for children beyond the first two will continue to be 12 weeks.
(iii) Maternity leave of 12 weeks to be available to mothers adopting a child below the age of three months as well as to the "commissioning mothers". The commissioning mother has been defined as biological mother who uses her egg to create an embryo planted in any other woman.
(iv) Every establishment with more than 50 employees to provide for crèche facilities for working mothers and such mothers will be permitted to make four visits during working hours to look after and feed the child in the crèche.
(v) The employer may permit a woman to work from home if it is possible to do so.
(vi) Every establishment will be required to make these benefits available to the women from the time of her appointment.