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Parliament passes bill to increase maternity leave to 26 weeks
The Parliament has passed a bill that allows women working in the organised sector to avail maternity leave of 26 weeks from now on. Previously, women were only allowed to avail a paid maternity leave of 12 weeks.

The new law will be applicable to organisations that are employing 10 or more people. But the 26 week entitlement will only be for the first two children. For the third child, the entitlement will be only for 12 weeks.

The Lok Sabha passed the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016 today, months after the Rajya Sabha had approved the measure.

India has now gained the third spot in terms of the number of weeks for maternity leaves. While Canada tops the list with 50 weeks, Norway is the second in number with 44 weeks.

"This is my humble gift to women, a day after the world celebrated the International Women's Day," Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya said after about 4-hour debate. During the debate, some members had argued that since these days most of the children are born in nuclear families and because of that both the father and the mother have to take care of the child, so the bill should have provisions for paternity benefits too.

The bill also provides for 12 weeks of maternity leave in case a woman has legally adopted a child who is below three months of age or in case of a commissioning mother (biological mother) who uses her egg to have a surrogate child.

The Bill also has a provision that mandates that every establishment with 50 or more employees has to provide creche facilities within a prescribed distance. The mother of the child admitted to that creche will be allowed four visits to the creche in a day including her interval for rest.

The bill also mandates that an employer can permit the woman to work from home, if the nature of work allows her the same. This option can be availed of, after the period of maternity leave, for a duration that is mutually decided by the employer and the woman.

Sushmita Dev (Congress) however argued that increasing the period of maternity leave could act as a deterrent for the private sector to employ women workforce.

"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," Ms Dev said.

She also criticised the bill for limiting itself to the organised sector saying that only 1.8 million pregnant ladies will benefit from the amendments as the bill does not have any provision for the 90 per cent of the women workforce that is employed in the unorganised sector.

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