NEW DELHI: Ministry of Labour has accepted the recommendations made to it regarding the increase in maternity leaves reserved for women employed in private sector. It is set to extend the leave quota for pregnant women from 12 weeks to six and half months (26 weeks) now with full pay. The proposal was made to it by Women and Child Development department (WCD).

The WCD Minister Maneka Gandhi said on Monday that, “We had written to the Labour Ministry asking that the maternity leave be extended taking into account the six months of breastfeeding that is required post childbirth. The Labour Ministry has agreed to increase it to six-and-a-half months.”

When the decision comes into effect, India will have more maternity leaves for its employees than any other country in the whole Asia Pacific, which includes developed countries like Australia. But it still lags far behind in generosity when compared to many European countries, the most female friendly amongst them being Balkan nations like Montenegro, Albania, and Croatia with each having reserved maternity leaves up to 52 weeks with full pay.

As per WCD, it had originally intended to persuade the Labour ministry for an increase up to eight months, but the latter didn’t agree to it saying that it may dissuade many employers to hire more women affecting their overall employability.

“The Labour Ministry has decided on six-and-a-half months following meetings with various stakeholders. We, however, feel that eight months of maternity leave-- for women in government as well as private sectors-- is required. We will move a note to the Cabinet Secretariat in this regard. Six months of exclusive breastfeeding is very important to combat malnutrition, diarrhoea and other diseases in infants and to lower infant mortality rate,” said a WCD official to Indian Express.

The Ministry of Labour is expected to amend the relevant clauses in the Maternity benefit Act, 1961, which at present allows 12 weeks of maternity leave with full pay.

The central government employees on the other hand are allowed maternity leave benefits of up to 180 days in situation of pregnancy. Moreover, women employees with minor children are entitled to take leave up to two years, which they can take in more than one spell, helping them cater to any contingency related to their wards’ education, sickness, etc.

The Seventh Pay Commission recently stipulated that women employed in central government jobs will be given full pay only for one year of the two reserved, and 80 per cent of the total pay for the second year. WCD minister said that she has written to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley regarding this requesting him full pay for both the years since it is imperative that women be incentivized more.