A committee on social security, set up at the 44th Indian Labour Conference (ILC) that concluded its session here on Wednesday, has suggested that maternity leave to women employees, now provided under the Maternity Benefit Act, be raised to 24 weeks from the present 12 weeks.

This has come even as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, while speaking at the conference on Tuesday, stressed the need to understand the constraints women staff faced in balancing their family and work responsibility, and take measures to increase the strength of women employees in the country.

Exploitation at workplace

Ironically, there was exploitation of women workforce in payment of wages in the quantum of payment when compared to men. A woman employee of a leading foreign bank in Chennai was recently asked to quit during her advanced stage of pregnancy and rejoin a few months after child birth just to avoid payment of maternity benefit and extension of leave to her.

Briefing journalists on the deliberations of the ILC, Labour and Employment Minister Mallikarjun Kharge said a committee on minimum wages had suggested an increase of wage ceiling for the application of Employees Provident Fund Act from the present Rs. 6,500 a month to Rs. 10,000 or Rs. 15,000 a la getting medical benefits under the Employees State Insurance Corporation. Most of the committee members wanted the ceiling for (number of) workers covered under the EPF Act be reduced from 20 to 10.

On pension being given by EPF, the committee suggested that the minimum payment be not less than Rs. 1000 a month as most of the State governments paid “senior citizens pension” in the range Rs. 400 to Rs. 1000 a month.

Employment policy

Need to announce a national employment policy, take intensive measures for skill development among youths and increase employment generation were some of the other suggestions made at the conference.