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The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 regulates the employment of women in factories, mines, the circus industry, plantations and shops or establishments employing ten or more persons, for certain periods before and after child-birth and provides for maternity and other benefits. The 44th Session of Indian Labour Conference (“ILC”), had recommended for enhancing maternity leave under Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 from existing twelve weeks to twenty -four weeks.
This recommendation was reiterated during 45th and 46th Session of ILC. The Ministry of Women and Child Development and other stakeholders had also requested to enhance maternity benefit under the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961. Based on the recommendations of ILC and requests from the various quarters and the deliberations during the Tripartite Consultations with stakeholders, it was decided to amend the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961.
The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016 was introduced in Rajya Sabha on August 11, 2016 by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Mr. Bandaru Dattatreya and passed on August 11, 2016 and further passed in Lok Sabha on March 9, 2017. It received the assent of the President on the 27th March, 2017.
II. Highlights of the Act:
- The Act aims to protect the employment of women during the time of pregnancy and entitles them to full paid absence from work.
- Women working in the organized sector will now be entitled to paid maternity leave of 26 weeks, up from 12 weeks.
- The new law will apply to all establishments employing 10 or more people and the entitlement will be for only up to first two children. For third child, the entitlement will be for only 12 weeks.
- The Act also makes it mandatory for employers in establishments with 50 employees, to provide crèche facilities.
- The mother will be allowed four visits to the crèche in a day. This will include her interval for rest.
- It also allows employers to permit woman to work from home, if it is possible to do so.
- It also recognizes that women who adopt or use a surrogate to bear a child also need time to bond with the child in the initial months, the Act also extends a 12 week maternity leave to adapting and commissioning mothers.
- For commissioning mother the period of maternity leave will be calculated from the date the child is handed over to the commissioning or adoptive mother.
III. Key Issues and Analysis:
- Several expert bodies like the World Health Organization have recommended that 24 weeks of maternity leave is required to protect maternal and child health. However, since the costs of this leave are to be borne by the employer, it may have an adverse impact on job opportunities for women.
- Various countries have implemented different funding models in relation to maternity benefits. In some countries the employer bears the cost, while in some others it is paid by the government.
- While women will be provided with 26 weeks of maternity leave for two children, the period of leave for a third child will be 12 weeks. This could affect the growth and development of the third born child.
- There are several labour laws that provide maternity benefits to women in different sectors. These laws differ in their coverage, benefits and financing of such benefits.
- The amendments have received mixed feedback from different sectors and industries.
- The additional benefits offered are not restricted to just a longer duration of maternity leave.
- The new Act is Gender neutral which allows even a male employee to take his child to a crèche, if it is far away from the mother’s workplace.
- However, there has also been pushback from micro, small and medium enterprises given that the increase in the duration of paid maternity leave will result in an increase in cost.
- Another common concern is the difficulties involved in providing a crèche facility close to the establishment – both in terms of cost and infrastructure.