Maternity Leave in India

“If you are not utilising a women’s talent, you are only utilising half the talent existing in Universe”

India is becoming one emerging power on global interface. It is one of the countries who has made way to the list of fastest growing economies. But much to our dismay, the female workforce participation has been a cause of concern for decades now in India, which is already the lowest in world. Despite the fact, that women prove better administrators, the dropping number of women professionals is an undermining force vis-à-vis to the growth of the nation. It is a well recorded fact that absence of women from the workforce could cost India up to 2.5-3% points of GDP.

One major reason why women in India are facing such flak is because of their limited presence during their work life since a fair number of them either take a lot of leaves or eternally resign from a job in the wake of taking up household responsibilities, one of which includes family planning and upbringing of kids. This, consequently discourages organisations from hiring women in the first place, since maternity leave has to be paid for by them. This is also discouraging from gender equality perspective, where India is already far-fetched from other countries. As per ASSOCHAM estimates, it is held that more than quarter of urban Indian women quit their jobs after having first child.

While the domestic and mundane chores can well be outsourced, the responsibility of being a mother has no substitute. A woman is mandatorily required to be home and nourish the child pre and post labour. The pains and struggle involved in the pregnancy is yet another challenge posed to them, which necessitates an environment for women, oozing support and encouragement. Initially, the maternity leave in Indian was limited to 3 months, which could be availed in parts or in one go at any point of time during pre & post pregnancy.

Ever since Maneka Gandhi, Child development Minister in India, has taken up the efforts to strengthen the position of working women in India, a ray of hope was emerged throughout the nation. It is because of her sweats and exertions that finally in 2016, the Maternity Bill (Amendment) was passed, where the tenure of paid maternity leave was increased from 3 to 6 months. A landmark bill in the history of India where women got their due and motivation increased manifold. It not only upheaved the participation of women in Indian labour force, but also mandated organisations to treat women equally and not undermine their requirement when it comes to personnel recruitment. And with this step, it placed India at third position in length of maternity leave. It has put India much ahead of many nations in Organisations for Economic Cooperation & Development.

Let’s take a look at salient features of the bill:

  • 1. After 12 weeks of confirmed pregnancy, the women working in organised sector will be entitled to paid maternity leave of 26 weeks, benefitting both mother and child.
  • The bill is also applicable on cases of adoption and surrogacy. The tenure of paid maternity leave of 12 weeks shall be applicable from the day the child (aged not more than 3 months in case of adoption) is handed over to the mother.
  • The new bill shall be applicable on entities/enterprises/companies having more 10 staff and the women shall be entitle to avail leave only for first two children.
  • The new law also provides for endowing crèche facilities within prescribed distances of a woman’s workplace, allowing woman 4 visits to the crèche per day. This rule is applicable on organisations/establishment with more than 50 employees.
  • A provision for ‘work from home’ is also allowed within the bill by the organisations, if the health of the woman allows her to do so. This may for a period other than maternity bill. Mutually decided by the woman and her employer.

The new law has taken into consideration each and every challenge coming through pre and post-natal period. It is a welcome move strengthening the position of women in India and has been accepted widely by the nation in general. However the reaction from business houses remains mixed. The points put forth by them can’t be completely ignored as they make a point when it comes economic progress of an organisation. Let’s see what have been the cause of worry to these entrprises and to what extent they touch reality.

The Maternity bill passed by the government is definitely a welcome move and in line with India’s initiatives towards women-led development. We at PayU India had identified this early on and were among the first to introduce the paid maternity leave of 26 weeks. Leaving job due to pregnancy is passé; the super women of today can feel secure and ensure better health and wellbeing.” – ChetnaGogia, Director- HR, PayU India.

As great a step as this is in its intent; we view the passing of the Maternity Benefits Amendment bill with both excitement as well as apprehension. Though the bill is a great start towards ensuring that women can continue to contribute to the economy of India. The apprehension is down to a multitude of unanswered questions and their potential impact.

If one were to look at the Nordic countries, we can see that they have closed over 80% gender gap. The one thing that stands out in achieving this, is the introduction of family or paternity leave policies for the workforce. Such policies allow both men and women to take time off from their careers for child or elder care and lets them return to the workforce at the same level.”- Priya Krishnan, Founder and CEO of Klay Schools

We welcome the maternity bill passed in Parliament. While it is a milestone bill with very good intention, chances it backfiring on career of women is also there. 26 weeks of absence of a key employee weighs very heavily on businesses in an extremely competitive, low margin corporate world. Another welcome move is the coverage of unorganized sector but without a strong implementation backbone possibility of employers circumventing the law is very high”. – Lakshmi Murthy, Chief People Officer, ITM Group of Institution

The costs of providing these benefits will be offset in a healthy way in the form of retention and stability within the organisation as fewer women leave to have children” – MoorthyUppaluri, MD, Cutch Recruitment group, India.

There is no taking away from the fact that the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016 has substantiated the presence of women workforce in India. The government has given their approval to validate indispensability of time required by a mother for his child. But it is to be equally taken care of that any abuse or embezzlement to the provisions by anyone would be a demeaning step to dishearten the thoughts that had gone into framing this.