Having realized the discriminatory provision in the Maternity Benefits Ordinance, the government under the amendment, has done away with the differentiated payments and made all live births of children of a woman worker entitled to full benefits of all 84 days of wages, without discrimination for all child births, said the Minister of Development Strategies and International Trade Malik Samarawickrama in parliament yesterday.
“As for the existing provisions, only for the first and the second child maternity benefits were given in terms of wages for 12 weeks. Accordingly, a woman is entitled to the payment of maternity benefits two weeks before confinement and another ten weeks after confinement in the case of an issue of a live birth. However, in terms of a still birth, payment was restricted to only six weeks, which is 47 days,” he said, adding that in giving birth to a third child or more, the woman worker was entitled to maternity benefits and wages exactly for only half of the period, which is only 42 days prior to and after confinement.
He said there are no generalised insurance fund to cover maternity expenses of female employees, hence, the Ministry of Labour would initially take steps to correct the anomalies in the Maternity Ordinance and later steps would also be taken to establish a fund for the purpose of insurance cover during pregnancies at a future date.
The minister made this statement presenting two important amendments to the Shop and Office Employees (Amendment) Bill and the Maternity Benefits (Amendment) Bill in Parliament yesterday, for the benefit of the workers of the country who are really in need of relief.
The subject of maternity benefits is covered under two laws, the Maternity Benefits Ordinance and the Shop and Office Employees Act. The Maternity Benefits Ordinance provides for the granting of maternity benefits to women covered under the Wages Board Ordinance and the Factories Ordinance. The Shop and Office Employees Act grants maternity benefits to women workers in shops and offices. On account of basic differences in the basic nature of work under these laws, for several decades, maternity benefits had been provided at different levels, but not on an equal basis. The way the maternity benefits have been provided under the Ordinance, the woman workers who are generally engaged in manual labour underwent hardships on account of several discriminatory provisions. He also said that having corrected the anomalies, the number of days granted for maternity leave would be counted only taking into account the number of working days.
“Among the basic differences in the two laws in comparison were gaps in the standards set out in the Maternity Protection Convention of the ILO, which Sri Lanka ratified in April 1993. On account of these anomalies, the two laws and gaps in comparison with ILO standards, the successive governments were subjected to criticism for not initiating action to rectify these anomalies of the two laws in operation for several decades.
Thus, all these amendments are long overdue. In the amendment to the Maternity Benefits Ordinance, steps were taken to remove several discriminatory provisions in the ordinance in the process of equalizing the standard of the Shops and Office Employees Act. To activate this exercise which has been suggested not only by the ILO, but also from several trade unions and Women’s organisations, suggesting the removal of the prevailing anomalies in the Maternity Benefits Ordinance merely granting benefits on the number of children,” Samarawickrama noted.