we take a look at the new provisions introduced in the Maternity Benefits (Amendment) Act,2017 - All you Need To Know
Recently, the Indian government amended and reformed the Maternity Benefits Act to form the Maternity (Amendment) Bill 2017. This amendment was passed in the Rajya Sabha on August 11, 2016, and received consent from the President on March 27, 2017. While the major provisions of The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017 had become effective from April 1, 2017, the crèche facility became effective from July 1, 2017.
Ever since our independence, steps have been taken to uplift the social status of women. The constitution does state that all citizenry of the republic of India, be it a man or a woman, are equal and hence have equal rights. However, the reality remained more or less the same. After hundreds of years of discriminatory social and cultural practices against women, there has to be a change in mindset. And that change can be brought about only in two ways; through education and through legislation. And since education is optional, legislation is the only tool the government has to ensure that such discriminatory practices are ended.
This led to a slew of acts being passed by the parliament. Some of the more well-known acts that were passed by the parliament in this direction are:
- The Equal Remuneration Act, 1976.
- The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.
- The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956.
- The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961.
- The Medical termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971.
- The Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987.
- The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006.
- The Pre-Conception & Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994.
- The Sexual Harassment of Women at Work Place (Prevention, Protection and) Act, 2013.
In this particular article we are going to discuss the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, the amendment act that was passed in 2017 and the key amendments brought in by the 2017 act.
The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961.
Prior to the passage of this act, women did not, or rather, were not allowed to foray into the professional space. While it is undeniable that the patriarchal structure and mindset of our society has had a large hand in this phenomena, motherhood and pregnancy are often used as excuses or reasons even today to keep women from pursuing a long term professional careers. It was in light of accommodating this discrepancy that the government of India introduced the Maternity Benefits Act in 1961 to allow women to continue to be an active part of the workforce despite the responsibilities and complications that come with pregnancy.
India was, of course, not unique in this aspect, as women’s rights, especially in the professional field, was and still is a topic of concerned discussion across the world. Several international organisations such as the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) recommend a maternity leave of at least 24 weeks for the welfare of both the new mother and the child. This act provided for several benefits working women could enforce in the event of pregnancy in lie with the contemporary international standards of those times.
Every organization with ten or more employees was subject to the provisions of this Act and the benefits of maternity were available to all women who had worked in that organization for more than eighty days. The key features of the Maternity Benefits Act, of 1961 are as follows:
Duration Of Leave
Under the 1961 act, a woman was entitled to twelve weeks of maternity leave, which the woman employee can utilise only six weeks prior to the due date. The ILO guideline at the time took this into account.
The 1961 Act made it unlawful for an employer to fire or let go of a woman at any time during or because of her absence on grounds of pregnancy and complications related to it. However, the employer could notify the employee in writing if the dismissal or discharge is the result of serious wrongdoing.
Remuneration During Leave
Women who met the requirements for maternity leave outlined in the 1961 legislation were entitled to remuneration at the rate of the average daily salary for the time that they were physically absent from work on maternity grounds.
The 1961 law entitled every working woman to maternity benefits and the power to exercise the option of receiving a medical bonus from her employer, in the event that neither prenatal nor postpartum care is provided by the latter, at no cost to the employee. The employer is responsible for paying all debts, including maternity benefits, to the woman’s nominee or legal representative in the event of her death.
Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017
Given that women have been oppressed for hundreds, if not thousands of years, we must accept the fact that changing the mindsets and the prejudicial basic instinct will take years. With every generation, there is more and more acceptance of the notion that women are equal to men and hence, the laws and legislation also have to be changed to keep up with the changing ideology. It was in this spirit that the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act was passed by both houses of parliament in February 2017. Let us take a look at some of the key features of this amended act.
Increased Paid Maternity Leave:
One of the key amendments of the 2017 act is the increase in the duration of paid maternity leave available for women employees from 12 weeks to 26 weeks. Women are allowed to avail of the benefits of maternity leave eight weeks prior to the estimated due date and utilize the remaining weeks postpartum. However, for having two or more surviving children, the duration of paid maternity leave is 12 weeks (i.e. six weeks before and six weeks after the expected date of delivery).
Maternity Leave For Adoptive And Commissioning Mothers:
The act defines mothers in two distinct categories when it comes to adoptions. One is the ‘adoptive mother’ which refers to the mother adopting the child and the ‘commissioning mother’ which refers to the biological mother whose egg is used to create the embryo during In Vitro Fertilisation. As per the provisions of the amended act, mothers adopting a child below the age of three months are entitled to 12 weeks of maternity leave from the date of adoption. The same amount of leave can be availed by commissioning mothers as well.
Work From Home Option:
The Maternity Benefit Amendment Act also has a provision enabling new mothers to work from home, which may be exercised by the woman employee after the expiry of the 26-week leave period. Depending upon the nature of work, women employees may be able to avail this benefit on terms that are mutually agreed with the employer.
The Maternity Benefit Amendment Act makes it mandatory for every establishment employing 50 or more employees to provide for a creche facility.. Women employees shall be permitted to visit the crèche four times during the day (including rest intervals) and where creche facilities are not available to women employees there should be two one-half hour rest periods.
- The Act also makes it mandatory for employers to educate women about the maternity benefits available to them at the time of their appointment
Need For Maternity Benefits
- The primary reason for making maternity benefits available is to help new mothers adjust to their new role, to protect the health of new mothers and to ensure the well-being of the child.
- Maternity leave proves to be crucial for strengthening families and inculcating the right values in children.
- The present-day world is extremely competitive and in most scenarios we see that both spouses have to work to maintain a decent standard of living. This unavoidable situation has led to more and more women joining the workforce as the years go by leading to them having to juggle multiple roles within the family.
- Maternity leave and other such benefits allow women to play these numerous roles well by providing financial support to the family and also allowing them to stay at home during the formative years of the child.
- Certain social scientists argue that these changes push forward patriarchy as it shifts the responsibility of childbearing towards the mother.
- Many private firms may now refuse to employ women as they will have to extend these privileges to them at the time of childbirth. This will adversely impact the job opportunities available for women.
- Various provisions lack clarity making implementation difficult.
- Though increasing the maternity benefits available to women is a welcome step, the government needs to ensure that industries do not lose their competitiveness due to these provisions. If the government can bring about more uniformity in labour laws regarding maternity benefits, it would help several women all over India handle the many responsibilities handed out to them.
Given that the Act itself has made a special mention with regard to spreading awareness about maternity benefit rights proves that the awareness amongst the women in the workforce is still yet to permeate completely. So it is always advisable to seek advice or guidance from a legal expert, especially with someone who has had hands-on experience with labour law. If you have any further questions relating to maternity benefits or labour law in general, contact us and we will ensure that our team of experienced legal experts will help you out with your requirements.