Four government-owned corporations have voluntarily agreed to extend paid maternity leave to six months from the mandatory two months according to labour minister Ngeema Sangay Tshempo.
The four entities are the National Housing Development Corporation Limited, the Rural Enterprise Development Corporation Limited, the Bhutan Agro Industries and the Construction Development Corporation Limited.
The minister also said that 166 private entities had agreed to extend paid maternity leave to three months from the existing two months.
The minister said that there are currently 130 female teachers working in 10 private schools in the country. Some of the private schools have agreed to extend their maternity leave to 3 – 4 months. “As support from the government, those teachers with class 12 qualification will be paid Nu 12,000 and the teachers with degree will be paid Nu 15,000 for three months,” the minister said.
On May 15 the labour minister presented to the National Assembly the status on the extension of maternity leave in the corporate and private sector. The previous assembly session had asked the government to look into the possibility of extending maternity leave in the corporate and private sector as the government had done for the civil service.
In March last year, the government amended the civil service rules to extend paid maternity leave from three to six months for civil servants.
In keeping with the Assembly directives the labour minister said a committee with representatives from the ministry, Druk Holding and Investments, National Commission for Women and Children, Civil Society Organizations, and Ministry of Finance (MoF) was formed and several meetings held.
One outcome was that it would be inconvenient to impose mandatory extension of maternity leave so educative advocacy programs should be initially pursued.
Another recommendation was for big companies like DHI to come up with a convenient extension period so that the other companies can also follow suit gradually. The third recommendation was to extend paternity leave from the current 5 days to 10 days.
The minister said that although the Bhutanese private sector is still largely informal and not financially stable compared to the advanced nations yet 166 companies voluntarily agreed to extend maternity leave to three months from two months. “I would like to express my gratitude for those in the private sector for rendering support to the government,” said Lyonpo.
The consultative meetings also established three more crèches from the existing seven and plans are in place to recruit qualified facilitators and nurses.
The 12 DHI companies are still in the process of discussion over the extension period of maternity leave and has requested the Labor Ministry to give them some time to come up with an agreeable rule.
Health minister Tandin Wangchuk said the main objective of extending maternity leave is to encourage six months of exclusive breastfeeding to ensure a child’s healthy growth. He also said that malnutrition rates have been declining over the years, which can be attributed to increased advocacy on breastfeeding and hygiene. “The results on extending the maternity leave cannot be reaped immediately; we are in fact investing on healthy and bright future citizens,” said the health minister.
Opposition leader Dr Pema Gyamtsho said a written report should have been circulated among Assembly members to enable a comprehensive discussion. “There is no written report, everything is verbal, so I feel that it’ll take another year for the government to extend and implement maternity leave in the non-government sectors.
The opposition leader expressed concern that in the future, there is every possibility of differentiating children of civil servants, those in private sector and farmers, which will create disparity in society. “Our concern is on the need for women to be given same treatment irrespective of where they work couldn’t be addressed,” said OL Pema Gyamtsho.
Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi said it is mandatory to not only submit reports in written form to the house but also circulate it several days prior to discussion.
“The verbal report wasn’t satisfactory and on top of that different corporate and private sector agencies are going to come up with different rules, thus the lack of uniformity is questionable here,” he alleged.