Women employees in the organized sector will now get six months of paid maternity leave, more than double the entitlement so far, after the Lok Sabha amended the law on maternity benefits. Terming the move a “gift on International Women’s Day”, labour minister Bandaru Dattatreya said the legislation will have far-reaching consequences both in terms of child care and female workforce participation in India.
To be sure, the 26 weeks of paid leave will be available to women for the first two children, after which they will be entitled to just 12 weeks of paid leave. Besides working women, the move will also be beneficial for children’s health. “This will enable them (women) to exclusively breast-feed the child for 6 months, which is critical for the good health of the child. The mother will also be able to take care of her own health and fully recuperate before she returns to work. This benefit will be available for two children,” Union child development minister Maneka Gandhi said.
When the bill was passed in Parliament, Maneka Gandhi, the minister for women and child development, was ecstatic: “I am very, very happy we have made history today. This will help thousands of women and produce much healthier children. We have been working on it for a long time,” she said. The Maternity Benefit Amendment Bill 2016 had been pending in Parliament for nearly nine months.
It’s hard not to wonder if, with the passing of the bill, women in the workforce will be seen as a ‘special’ breed who now have a government Act to take care of them. Some organisations in India have the 26-week maternity rule in place already. How will other companies react? How will they view women employees who want to take maternity leave from the earlier stipulated 12 weeks?
The policy may work for women in roles where they work as part of a team. But it might not work is she holds a leadership role in the organisation. How will organisations work towards retaining the female employee at the leadership role? Will it be handed back to her or will organisations find polite ways of displacing women who go on maternity leave? The six-month leave duration ring alarm bells on hiring women in the workforce?
“When an organisation decides to hire people and has a choice between male and female candidates, chances are that the former would be preferred because the new policy would mean the woman will take six months of maternity leave,” says an HR head of a recruiting firm.
The new legislation also mandates the opening of crèches in all companies that have 50 employees or 30 women employees, whichever is lower, and facilitate “working home” for new mothers. The Union government is expected to formally notify the new legislation in the next few days after obtaining the signature of the President.
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