In a huge relief to women working in private firms, the Modi government is all set to increase the maternity leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks.
A report in The Indian Express quoted Women and Child Development (WCD) Minister Maneka Gandhi as saying:
“We had written to the Labour Ministry asking that the maternity leave be extended taking into account the six months of breastfeeding that is required post childbirth. The Labour Ministry has agreed to increase it to six-and-a-half months.”
In the present scenario, women in private firms are entitled to 12 weeks of paid maternity leave. To extend the leave, the ministry of labour will have to amend the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961.
Though the WCD ministry was trying to increase the leave upto eight months, the labour ministry expressed its reservations about it.
An official at the WCD ministry said:
“The labour ministry has decided on six-and-a-half months following meetings with various stakeholders. We, however, feel that eight months of maternity leave — for women in government as well as private sectors — is required. We will move a note to the Cabinet Secretariat in this regard.”
However, women who have government jobs get a six-month maternity leave as per the Central Civil Service (Leave) Rules 1972. It was increased from four-and-a-half months in 2008.
Also, the government women employees are allowed to take childcare leave of up to two years in phases at any point till their child turns 18 years old.
But, the Seventh Pay Commission recently recommended that only the first 365 days should be paid leave while the remaining 365 can be availed at 80 per cent of the salary.
Regarding it as a regressive step, Ranjana Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research, said, “women in India need longer maternity leave in the absence of any support in parenting from men. It should not be seen as a deduction in labour hours but as a long-term investment from the future economic point of view.”
According to recommendations of International Labour Organisation (ILO), organisations should give a minimum standard maternity leave of 14 weeks or more.
ILO encourages member states to increase it to at least 18 weeks.
If maternity leave in India is extended to 26 weeks, the country will join the league of 42 countries where maternity leave exceeds 18 weeks.
But, it still falls behind several east European, central Asian and Scandinavian countries, which have the most generous national legislation for paid maternity leave.