India’s parliament has more than doubled paid maternity leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks, making it the third most generous country in the world for new mothers after Canada and Norway.
The law will apply to new mothers from any organizations that employ more than 10 people, and will also provide 12 weeks of maternity leave to women who adopt children under three months old, and to women who surrogate children. The bill will cover women in both the public and the private sector.
"This is my humble gift to women, a day after the world celebrated International Women's Day," Labor Minister Bandaru Dattatreya said after a four-hour debate, the BBC reported.
India’s paid maternity pay is significantly more generous than what is offered by many countries. The U.S. has no mandatory maternity leave, and women are encouraged to save their sick pay and holiday pay to cover their pregnancy, while in the U.K. employees are entitled to 12 weeks of paid maternity leave. However, new mothers fare considerably better in Canada and Norway—in Canada women get 50 weeks of paid maternity leave, and in Norway, 44 weeks.
The bill that passed Friday also demands that creche facilities are developed close to companies that employ 50 or more employees, and it also allows women to visit their infants in the creche up to four times a day.
It’s taken some time to pass the maternity bill, which was pending in parliament for nearly nine months. India’s 26 week paid maternity leave is valid only for the first two children—after that it drops back to 12 weeks.
However, there are concerns that the ruling could act as a deterrent to companies who may now avoid employing women. “Since the employer has to pay the salary during the leave period, the amendment might turn out to be counter-productive. Innovative thing to do would be to bring in paternity benefit," Sushmita Dev said during the debate.
However, according to The Times of India, Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi said: “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.”
A report by Oxfam suggests India has a terrible record when it comes to employing women in the workforce. The country is positioned second from the bottom out of G20 countries when it comes to women’s involvement in the workplace.
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