The Rajya Sabha on Thursday passed a Bill to increase the maternity leave to 26 weeks from the present 12 weeks.
The Bill provides for maternity leave of 26 weeks to women for two surviving children, and also includes commissioning and adopting mothers.
Surrogate mothers have, however, been left out, a point which was objected to by several Opposition members. They sought Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya’s assurance that the government will examine it and take action. The Minister assured the House he will examine the issue.
The Bill, which will now go to the Lok Sabha, will lead to the ratification of International Labour Organisation convention number 183 that provides for at least 14 weeks of maternity benefit to women.
The Bill also facilitates ‘work from home’ for nursing mothers once the leave period ends and has made creche facility mandatory in respect of establishments with 50 or more employees.
Employers will have to allow women employees to go to the creche four times during duty hours, which will also include her rest period, the Bill said.
Speaking before the Bill was passed, Dattatreya said a maternity bonus of up to Rs 3,500 will also be given to women staff. The minister also said that employers cannot fire a woman on ground of pregnancy. “The law will benefit more than 1.8 million workforce in this country,” Dattatreya said.
The Bill also requires employers to inform women about maternity leave benefits in writing or electronically at the time of joining.
Speaking during the debate, Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi said maternity leave is not a holiday, as many people feel. “This is not a holiday… it is a very stressful time for a woman,” Gandhi said.
She said that although her Ministry recommended eight-month maternity leave, but the Labour Ministry felt the period of 26 weeks was sufficient.
Participating in the debate, Rajni Patil of the Congress said some companies are not willing to employ married women because then they will have to be given maternity benefits.
“Maternity benefits should be extended to employees in the unorganised sector too,” Patil suggested. She also pitched for paternity leave for men. “Motherhood is not restricted only to mothers. Fathers should also take the responsibility,” Patil said.
Kahkashan Parveen of the Janata Dal-United, meanwhile, said it was for the first time in 18 months that the House was discussing an issue related to women.