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Read Editorial – Maternity Benefit Law Sets The Norm

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MEANINGS are given in BOLD

With the passage of the Maternity  (motherhood)  Benefits (Amendment) Act, India can take pride (pleasure; joy) in being ahead of many of its developing and some developed countries when it comes to improving the working conditions for women and paid maternity/childcare leave. The government has through the amendments to the 1961 law taken the initial steps to transform maternity leave legislation into one focused on childcare. Sadly, this is limited to those in the organised sector, separating their counterparts (one of two copies of a legal document) in the informal sector by wider gap.

The inclusion of maternity leaves to adoptive and commissioning mothers, though only for 12 weeks, the mandatory (compulsory; required) access to crèche (a nursery where babies and young children are cared for during the working day) facilities for establishments with more than 50 employees along with four visits per workday and the work-from-home option are all indicative of this change in focus from maternity to childcare. Much more needs to be done. This amended law applies to women working in factories, mines, shops and establishments with 10 or more employees, that is, 1.8 million women. The bulk of the women workforce is in the unorganised sector.

Given the unstructured conditions and likelihood (the state or fact of something’s being likely; probability) of multiple employers, these women are unlikely to be able to meet eligibility conditions set by the Maternity Benefits Act. Central and state governments have many schemes for maternity assistance and childcare, but more needs to be done to increase awareness and access. The ministry of women and child development that piloted (control; handle) the amendments must work with relevant ministries to rationalise (attempt to explain or justify (behaviour or an attitude) with logical reasons, even if these are not appropriate) the maternity/childcare leave provisions across eight labour-related laws.

The benefits vary from 12 weeks to six months of paid leave, as does the financing model. This law reflects many of the changing social realities, and the need to focus on early childhood care. Things have to progress to paternity (the state of being someone’s father) leave, and increasing the ambit (the scope, extent, or bounds of something) of childcare provisions. This is so, even if the major purpose of the law for the majority of Indian women in the workforce is to set a norm (something that is usual, typical, or standard), which they can work to achieve, through collective efforts and official help.

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