Govt mulls 26-wk maternity leave

The BJP government is considering a proposal to increase the maternity leave for working women from the existing 12 weeks to 26 weeks.The proposal also talks of providing 12 weeks of maternity leave to commissioning mothers -who use surrogates to bear a child -as well as for working women adopting a baby .

The labour ministry held a tripartite meeting with trade unions and employers for discussing the draft amendment bill to extend maternity leave benefits to natural, commissioning and adopting mothers.As per Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, a working woman, at present, is entitled to 12 weeks of maternity leave out of which six weeks are before the expected date of delivery . Women and child development minis ter Maneka Gandhi had proposed increasing maternity leave to 28 weeks and has held discussions with the labour minister on the issue.

“In the meeting, it was unanimously decided that maternity leave for natural mothers should be extended from the existing 12 to 26 weeks,“ said a labour ministry official.

The issue before the government is a complex one.While the WCD ministry believes extending leave for expecting mothers will directly benefit the newborn child and positively impact nutritional levels, there are apprehensions that such long duration of leave might make a woman employee unemployable.maternity

“It is no secret that the company will have to pay for 26 weeks of absence of a woman employee. This may work against a woman employee and be a deterrent for firms in hiring women. The government needs to weigh in the pros and cons be ore it takes a considered decision,“ a senior official said.

Another issue put by the unions was that of creches. “It was almost unanimous that here will be creches. The proposal was that firms with 30 women employees or with a to al of 50 employees will have creches. Also, there can be op ion of a group of firms together opening a creche.

“The proposal also included the point that mothers who bring their child to the creche will get 15 minutes of special eave before and after lunch hour to take care of the child,“ he added. The government has closed the tripartite discussions on both the issues -maternity leave and compensation -and will move a note for inter-ministerial consultations.