Women, performing manual and physical (other than intellectual, administrative, supervisory or managerial) labour in Bangladesh are entitled to 16 weeks of Maternity Benefits – eight weeks before birth and eight weeks after birth. The terms and conditions of employment, including the Maternity Benefits of the female staff at the intellectual, administrative, supervisory or managerial positions should be regulated in the employment contract. No maternity benefit shall be payable to any woman if at the time of her confinement she has two or more surviving children, but in that case she shall be entitled to the leave to which she would otherwise be entitled.
In the latter half of the twentieth century, there has been a dramatic rise in the proportion of women who have entered the workforce throughout the world. In Bangladesh the number of women working has also gone up in the last 20 years. As per available data of Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) in 2006, of the 49.5 million of civilian workforce, about 38% are female (BBS, 2006). With women working, maternity leave is of course an issue.
Evolution of the labour laws and those relating to maternity benefits in Bangladesh
The century old labour law system in Bangladesh was enacted during the British rule of the subcontinent, in 1881. Later, laws governing different employment and labour related matters, e.g., The Factories Act (1881), Workmen’s Compensation Act (1923), Trade Unions Act (1926), Trade Disputes Act (1929), Payment of Wages Act (1936), Maternity Benefits Act (1939), and the Employment of Children Act (1938) were a few of the employment and labour laws enacted during that period. After independence of the Indian sub-continent, including Bangladesh, in 1947, almost all the laws during the pre-partition period remained in force with some modifications and amendments, in the form of administrative rules, by the then Pakistan Government.
After the independence from Pakistan in 1971, the Bangladesh government retained the previous laws through the Bangladesh Laws Order (President’s Order No. 48). No major development took place in the history of labour legislation till the enactment of the Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006. The Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006, amended on the 14th November 2018, is a major and comprehensive enactment regarding industrial relation system through codification of existing labour laws in order to avoid overlapping and inconsistencies and brought some significant changes in industrial relation system.
Before the amalgamation of all the labour laws through the Bangladesh Labour Act 2006, there were three distinct acts for the regulation of maternity benefits for women for certain periods before and after child birth and for the payment of maternity benefits to them. These were The Maternity Benefits Act 1939 (which was most widely used in manufacturing, service and other organisations), The Mines Maternity Benefit Act 1941, and The Maternity Benefits (Tea Estate) Act 1950. All three of these acts have been repealed and amalgamated into the new labour laws under Chapter IV as “Maternity Benefits”.