The decision is likely to impact women employment in the private sector  

Leave: Should the cabinet approve the proposed six-months paid maternity leave and flexi-time for civil servants, the proposal could possibly come into effect from next month.

National Assembly’s Women, Children and Youth Committee chairperson and Drujegang-Tseza MP, Karma Dorji, while presenting the report to the house yesterday said numerous consultations were done with various agencies on increasing paid maternity leave as proposed by Royal Civil Service Commission.

However, despite conveying their appreciation to the proposed policy, most members were concerned that increasing the paid maternity leave for civil servants would have negative consequences on the private or informal sectors.

Bardo-Trong MP Lakey Dorji said although the proposal immensely benefits civil servants it would further worsen the already low women unemployment rate.

He said chances of women not getting employment opportunities in the private sector are high in future. “This should be worrying because private sector will be the number one employer in future,” he said.

He suggested that the cabinet needed to work out other options so that the consequences of increasing the paid maternity leave would not be heavy on private sector.

The worry was not only for women in private sector but women parliament members and Local Government leaders as well, Opposition leader (Dr) Pema Gyamtsho added.

“Some sort of allowances or subsidy for women employees in sectors other than civil service needs to be worked out so that the maternity leave extension is fair for all women,” he said

Following a proposal from the government in January this year and a study by the commission itself, RCSC recommended that mothers be given six months paid maternity leave. All recommendations were submitted to the Cabinet for approval this month.

Labour minister Ngeema Sangay Tshempo said the ministry’s biggest worry was that if the proposed maternity leave were made mandatory for the private sector, the decision would further reduce women employment.

He said as of 2013, the women unemployment rate was 3.7 percent, which fell to 3.5 percent last year. “But on carrying out a research, it was found that private sector were not interested in taking women employees,” Lyonpo said.

The deliberation that went on for an hour and half past lunch break also saw some heated discussion on the delay of fulfilling the government’s pledge in extending the maternity leave.

Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi said that a few years’ ago, a resolution was passed on breastfeeding policy recognising the importance of exclusive breastfeeding for babies until six months. It was time, he said, that the government fulfilled its campaign pledge.

“If the government has to prove itself trustworthy, it is high time that you fulfil your pledges,” he said.

Defending the duration the government took in proposing the maternity leave extension, Lyonpo Dorji Choden said the Civil Service Act of Bhutan 2010 and Bhutan Civil Service Rule 2012 required revision, which took time.

The House however, endorsed all five recommendations made by the Women Children and Youth Committee.

Other recommendations include expediting the formulation of national youth action plan and national policy framework for reducing the consumption of alcohol.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was recommended to table the international convention on rights of persons with disabilities in the summer session.

Nirmala Pokhrel