Maternity Benefit:

Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 is applicable to every factory, shop or establishment, where 10 or more people are or were employed at any given point of time in the preceding 12 months.

It is an Act to regulate the employment of women in certain establishments for certain periods before and after child-birth and to provide for maternity benefit and certain other benefits.

The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016 aims to bring about some substantial changes. It was passed by the Rajya Sabha on August 11, 2016. After a particularly long gap, the Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha on March 9, 2017. President’s assent is currently being awaited for it to applicable to all working women in public and private establishments.

Changes brought about by Maternity Benefit (Amendment Bill) 2016: 

(i) Defines commissioning mother as  a biological mother who uses her egg to create an embryo implanted in any other woman.

(ii) Amends Section 5 of the 1961 Act to increase the maternity leave to 26 weeks from 12 weeks of which 8 weeks is for pre-natal leave instead earlier 6 weeks.

(iii) It adds a proviso to Section 5 stating that women having two or more kids shall be entitled to a maternity leave of 12 weeks of which 6 weeks is for pre-natal leave.

(iv) It adds sub-section 4 to Section 5 of the 1961 Act providing that a woman who legally adopts a child below the age of three months and a commissioning mother shall be entitled to a maternity leave of twelve weeks from the date the child is handed over to the adopting or commissioning mother.

(v) Addition of sub-section 5 to Section 5 provides the woman a chance to work from home if the employer allows after availing the maternity benefit on such conditions mutually agreed by the woman and employer

(vi) The Amendment inserts Section 11A to the 1961 Act which provides for the facility of creche in every establishment having 50 or more people. It also allows the woman four visits a day to creche including interval for rest.

(vii) Section 11A also prescribes that every establishment shall intimate the woman in writing and electronically about her benefits under the Act during the initial appointment.

Criticisms:

One of the major criticisms against this Bill is the fact that it benefits only women working in organised sector, whereas majority of the women in India work in unorganised sector. Besides, there are women who work under contract labour, casual labour etc.

Another major criticism is the absence of paternity leave in the Act. Efficient rearing of a child is the responsibility of both mother and father. It is important for the father to be with the child in the early days so develop a bond with the child as well as provide a helping hand to the mother by sharing the responsibilities. However, the absence of a provision to this effect inevitably reinforces gender discrimination.

The bill discriminates against adoptive and commissioning mother by providing them just 12 weeks of maternity leave.

Positives:

While the criticisms hold good to a large extent, the Bill is a landmark moment as it is progressive in nature and will benefit 1.8 million working women. Also, even though it is being criticised for discriminating against the third child, the Bill is inherently providing an incentive for family planning and population control.

The move could being out parity in labour force as it would encourage more female participation. The Bill would place India third in terms of number of weeks of maternity leave provided after Canada that provides 50 weeks and Norway that provides 44 weeks.

Conclusion:

In spite of the positive steps taken, the Bill has a long way to go before it abdicates gender discrimination. The bill solely focuses on providing adequate leave to women in order to protect their health and the baby’s wellbeing. However, corporate world is known to be cruel to women especially after they come back from maternity leaves. In order to avoid this prejudice in the minds of the employers, there should have been a provision to enable smooth return to work.

Picture Courtesy: Pixabay

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