Equal maternity leave for all working women called for
The inconsistencies between the Labour Act 2006 and the amended Bangladesh Service Rules, especially in terms of maternity leave entitlement for working women, not only defy the constitution that prohibits all sorts of discrimination but also betray the ruling quarters’ general bias towards employers at large in the private sector. According to a New Age report on Sunday, while the amended Rule 197(1) of Part I of the Bangladesh Service Rules provides six-month maternity leave for women working permanently at different government organisations, section 46 of the Bangladesh Labour Act that applies only to private-sector employees allows a worker to take a maternity leave of 16 weeks. As a result, women employed in the private sector currently get maternity leave—if any—of a third less than their colleagues in the public sector. What is worse is that the government appears to remain reluctant to put an end to such discrimination, as it is reportedly going to bring an amendment to the act concerned soon in order to extend the maternity leave for private employees to 24 weeks, 168 days that is, while the leave for the public sector women amounts to as many as 180 days.
Meanwhile, the grounds behind retaining such a discrimination appear a bit more unfortunate. According to the report, the labour and employment minister has argued that the public sector working mothers deserve the privilege as they enjoy monthly wages, while the private sector women get their wages on the basis of work hours. One could be forgiven to conclude that by uttering such a bizarre statement the minister is not only shielding a discriminatory rule but is also undermining the universal values related to motherhood. The vice-president of the Bangladesh National Lawyers’ Association has rightly pointed out that needs of a mother and her children ‘do not vary by the types of work’ she is engaged in. Indeed, none can deny the fact that all women during their pregnancy require extra care and rest, and all newborn children deserve their respective mothers’ exclusive association and care at least up to a certain period.
The minister, the government for that matter, needs to realise that, already, due to lack of proper monitoring on their part, a large section of the private sector employers have allegedly denied their female employees the stipulated maternity leave, which has lead to a number of cases of the latter to leave their jobs which are literally very tough to regain once lost, over the years. Invariably, their pleas—lame though—in favour of discriminatory rules regarding maternity leave will worsen the situation further. The incumbents would be well-advised to come out of their reluctance to ensure equal status for all working mothers regardless of sectors, especially when it comes to maternity leave.
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