The Lahore High Court, in a judgment on the Punjab Workers Welfare Act, passed an important precedent that can be a landmark development in the province’s maternal care and labour laws. The judgment, written by Justice Muzamil Akhtar Shabbir, ruled that availing of maternity leave is a fundamental right of a woman even if the same is not provided for in the terms and conditions of her service contract.

This was an important development to the law in Punjab. The law, as it stands in all the provinces of Pakistan, guarantees maternity leave to women who have worked for a minimum time period in an occupation. The petitioner, in this case, was appointed on internship/retainer basis whose application for the grant of maternity leave was rejected.

While the courts have previously—through various orders passed in different cases—granted maternity leave despite inadmissibility in many cases, this judgement stands out for linking maternity leave with fundamental rights and principles of the policy stated in the Constitution of Pakistan. The judge maintained that the refusal of maternity leave to a woman may be tantamount to infringing her rights provided under the provisions relating to fundamental rights and principles of policy, which also provide for the corresponding duties of the state to protect the women and children.

These were integral distinctions to make. The laws providing for maternity leave in Pakistan are fragmented and lacking. This judgement brings the maternity leave regulations in Pakistan up to the standard set by the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Maternity Protection Convention, 2000. Now, these developments must be reflected in law and in practice. The Maternity and Paternity Leave Bill, 2020 was passed by the Senate but not enacted as legislation. Further steps must be also taken to ensure the goals behind familial care envisioned are met. These include expanding upon childcare facilities at work, ensuring day-care facilities are available, and working parents are facilitated.