ISLAMABAD: The Senate on Monday passed a bill allowing a maximum of 30-day paternity leave to the employees of “public and private establishments under the administrative control of the federal government” with full pay besides a mandatory six-month maternity leave for a female employee on the birth of the first baby.

The opposition-dominated Senate passed the Maternity and Paternity Leave Bill 2018 tabled by PPP Senator Quratulain Marri despite its strong opposition by the treasury members through a majority vote. The bill will now be transmitted to the National Assembly for its passage.

Ms Marri had introduced the bill in November 2018 and it was approved by the house committee on finance headed by another PPP senator and former law minister Farooq Naek in its meeting on December 12 last year.

Minister for Economic Affairs Hammad Azhar opposed the bill, saying there was already a law to give 90-day maternity leave to female employees while male government employees could avail 48-day leaves a year.

He said Pakistan was a poor country and, therefore, it could not be compared with the developed countries where such facilities were available to the public.

When Ms Marri insisted on putting the bill for a vote realising that the opposition members were more in numbers, Mr Azhar suggested that the number of paternity leaves should be reduced to 15 days as 30-day leaves were too much.

Moreover, he said, the bill also related to the health ministry and it should again be referred to the committee.

The minister, however, faced a strong reaction over the proposal as the opposition senators alleged that the minister did not attend the committee meetings and he should have opposed the legislation at the committee level.

Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani then put the bill for a voice vote.

Main points of the bill

Clause 4 of the bill says: “A male employee expecting his wife to give birth to a child shall, at his option, be granted paternity leave on full not exceeding thirty (30) days outside his leave account from the date of its commencement.”

“Such paternity leave may not be granted for more than three times in the entire service of the male employee except when such leave is granted within his leave account due and admissible to him or as an extraordinary leave without pay,” says sub-clause 2 of the Clause 4.

Clause 3 of the bill titled “right to maternity leave” states: “Maternity leave shall in the prescribed manner be granted on full pay outside the leave account to a female employee on her option to the extent of 180 days on first birth, 120 days on second birth and 90 days on the third birth from the date of commencement thereof.”

The bill also provides for punishment to the violators of the law.

Clause 5 states: “A person who contravenes any provision of this Act shall be deemed to have committed an offence punishable with imprisonment of either description of a term for a term which may extend to six months or a fine which may extend to Rs1,000 or with both.”

The statement of objects and reasons of the bill stated that working women are a growing reality in Pakistan. In order to facilitate women to fulfil the obligations of motherhood without having to compromise on their professional growth, “Article 37(e) of the Constitution provides the maternity benefits to women and entitles them to leave.”

This bill aims to provide expectant mothers maximum required leave in order to facilitate them. On the other hand, the law does not mandate the provision of paternity leave for male employees, where the need for the institutionalisation of such support structure is no different.

“Research suggests that enabling fathers to look after their newborn children has positive knock-on effects. The early close relationship between father and child has long-term implications. This Bill seeks to provide fathers the opportunity to be there at a crucial time without the added responsibility of the workplace.”

Meanwhile, the Senate also passed the bill of Senator Ayesha Farooq under which powers would be given to the government to make vaccination for universal immunisation of children compulsory in Islamabad capital territory and to protect the health workers designated for immunisation programmes.

Published in Dawn, January 28th, 2020