With the emergence of the modern age, as the number of women employees is growing, maternity benefits and leaves are increasingly becoming common around the globe. Though there was no valuable piece of legislation in this regard which seeks to achieve the objective of granting social justice to women workers employed in mines, factories and plantations. Therefore, the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 was enacted. The aim of this act was to provide maternity leaves and benefits to women employees and to give protection to their dignity of motherhood by providing for the accurate and healthy maintenance of the woman and her child. The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 protects the employment of women throughout the time of her maternity and entitles her of a ‘maternity benefit’ – i.e. full paid absence from work – to take care for her child. This act is applicable to all establishments employing 10 or more employees.
The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill 2016 (the “Amendment Bill”), is an amendment to the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 (“Act”), which was passed in the Lok Sabha on March 09, 2017, in Rajya Sabha on August 11, 2016, and received an assent from President of India on March 27, 2017. The provisions of the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017 is effective from April 01, 2017. However, the provision on crèche facility (Section 11 A) shall be effective from July 01, 2017.
This Act is applicable to all establishments which are mines, factories, plantations, Government establishments, shops and establishments under the relevant applicable legislation, or any other establishment as may be notified by the Central Government.
According to the Act, to be eligible for maternity benefit, a woman must have been working as an employee in an establishment for a duration of at least 80 days in the past 12 months.
Increase In Maternity Leave:
The Maternity Benefit Amendment Act has increased the period of paid maternity leave that a woman employee is entitled to, has been increased to 26 weeks which was 12 weeks before the amendment. The Act earlier permitted pregnant women to avail Maternity Benefit for only 6 weeks prior to the date of expected delivery. Now, this period is increased to 8 weeks.
Work from home:
Depending upon the nature of work, an employer may allow a woman employee to work from home post the period of Maternity Benefit. The terms and conditions for working from home are to be mutually agreed between the employer and the woman.
No increase in benefit for the third child:
The increased Maternity Benefit is only obtainable for the first two children. The Amendment provides that a woman employee having two or more surviving children shall only be allowed to 12 weeks of Maternity Benefit of which not more than 6 weeks shall be taken prior to the date of the expected delivery.
Commissioning mothers or a woman adopting a child below the age of 3 months will be entitled to maternity leave for 12 weeks from the date the child is handed over to the adopting woman or the commissioning mother.
Every establishment having 50 or more employees are required to have a mandatory creche facility within the prescribed distance from the establishment, either separately or along with other common facilities. The woman is also to be allowed 4 visits a day to the creche, which will include the interval for rest allowed to her.
Every establishment is required to intimate a woman at the time of her appointment, the information about every maternity benefit under the act.
Leave for Miscarriage and Illness:
In case of medical termination of pregnancy or miscarriage, a woman shall, after producing the prescribed proof, be allowed to leave with wages at the rate of maternity benefit, for a duration of 6 weeks instantly following the day of her miscarriage or medical termination of pregnancy.
Leave for Tubectomy Operation:
In case of tubectomy operation, a woman shall, after producing the prescribed proof, be permitted to leave with wages at the rate of maternity benefit for a duration of two weeks instantly following the day of operation.
Leave for Illness:
Leave for a maximum period of 1 month with wages at the rate of maternity benefit are allowed in case of illness emerging out of pregnancy, premature birth of child, delivery, miscarriage or medical termination of pregnancy or tubectomy operation.
Each and every woman who is entitled to maternity benefit shall also be permitted a medical bonus of Rs. 250, if no pre-natal confinement and post-natal care is provided for by the employer free of charge.
In case there is a failure to pay maternity benefit as given under the Act, the penalty is imprisonment upto one year and fine upto Rs. 5000. The minimum being 3 months and Rs. 2000 respectively. For discharge or dismissal of a woman as given under the Act, the penalty is imprisonment upto one year and fine upto Rs. 5000. The minimum being 3 months and Rs.2000 respectively.
In General, Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017 is a key move in the right direction to the extent the women rights are concerned. At the same time, such measures should be taken as may be required so as to make it certain that these provisions do not discourage employers from employing more women in both private and public sectors. Moreover, the amendments have few shortcomings like the women working in an unorganized sector are not covered and the conception of “Paternity Leave” is ” not considered.