Ever since Independence, various steps have been initiated to empower women in our nation. The constitution of India strongly emphasizes through Article 14 equal opportunities and benefits to both men and women. Women empowerment is a continuous process and the concept touches various domains making people more understanding and sensitive toward the challenges women face. In past, employers used to fire their women employees on learning about their pregnancy believing that such a situation would interfere with their performance. This only increased the stressful situation for them to undergo apart from the pregnancy discomforts.
With changing times, offices and corporates became more sensitive and open toward their female employees addressing their maternity concerns.
The Maternity Benefit Act, 1991- The earlier law
This act was introduced to allow women to continue with their jobs despite the responsibilities or complications of pregnancy. Several international organizations such as the Convention on 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. In consonance with the contemporary international standards of those times, this act provided several benefits to working women in the event of pregnancy.
The Act implied to every organization, with ten or more employees, and the benefits were extended to all women who have worked for more than 80 days. This act provided 12 weeks of maternity leave which could be utilized only 6 weeks prior to the due date. The provisions of this act made it unlawful for an employer to fire or let go of a woman at any time during or because of her absence due to the pregnancy or any complication that occurred due to the pregnancy. In case the employer had proper reasons to believe any sort of serious wrongdoing, such case, with prior notice in writing, could proceed with discharge or dismissal.
Any woman who duly complied with the requirements for the maternity leave was entitled to receive remuneration at the rate of average daily salary for the time they were physically absent due to the pregnancy.
The latest amendment
The Maternity (Amendment) Bill 2017, was passed in Rajya Sabha on 11 August 2016, and in Lok Sabha on 9 March 2017. It received its assent from the President of India on 27 March 2017. On 1st April 2017, the provisions of the amended act came into effect, and the provision of a ‘Creche facility’ under section 11A came into force on 1st July 2017.
Increased Paid Maternity Leave:
The amended act increased the duration of paid maternity leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks. The benefit could be availed by women for a period extending to 8 weeks before the expected delivery date and remaining at the time of childbirth.
Provision for adoptive and commissioning mothers:
The amended act defines mothers in two distinct categories regarding adoption. ‘Adoptive mother’ is referred to the mother adopting the child and ‘commissioning mother’ refers to the biological mother whose egg is used to create the embryo during IVF. The new provision provides 12 weeks of maternity leave to both mothers adopting a child below the age of three months.
Work from home
The new mothers are enabled under the amended act the provision of work from home after the expiration of 26 weeks depending on the nature of work and as and when mutually agreed with the employer.
For every organization which has more than 50 employees, the new amended act makes it mandatory to make creche facility available to their female employees, allowing them to visit the creche at least 4 times a day.
No doubt that the amendment intends to bring valid and positive changes in society. Where once women were only seen as having the primary responsibility of household work and child care, it's remarkable to see how women have proved to be an invincible force in the workforce too. But along with a lot of positive changes, a few discomforting issues also have arisen with the mandatory provisions under the new amendment. The policy design leaves the employer to discriminate against women of childbearing age, leaving the companies to avoid hiring young women. Where the creche facility is a remarkable provision that intends to help young mothers, living in a nuclear family setup to have their child with them, but this also adds to the expenditure of the company which may not be in a financial position to afford such an infrastructural setup.
creche facility is a remarkable provision that intends to help young mothers, living in a nuclear family setup to have their child with them, but this also adds to the expenditure of the company which may not be in a financial position to afford such an infrastructural setup.
The financial cost of the employer increases as they are left to bear the cost of providing the paid leave to the mother, wherein also incurs extra costs in training or getting the work done by someone else in the absence of the mother. Whereas in several other countries, the cost of maternity leave is shared between the government, employer, insurance agency, and other social security programs, in India the financial burden falls on the employer alone. In countries like Singapore employer bears the cost for 8 weeks and public funds take care for 8 weeks, In Australia and Canada public funds bear the complete cost, etc, it makes it easy for the companies to sustain and encourage more female employment.
Despite the role, a woman plays in their personal or professional life, the right to make their pregnancy their biggest priority should only be encouraged, and hence every woman must be aware of the maternity benefits that they can avail without any stress. The Maternity (Amendment) Act 2017, makes it mandatory for companies to educate employees about maternity benefits at the time of appointment, and also the termination of the employee without justifiable reason when it coincides with the first day of the maternity leave is also deemed illegal and unjustifiable.
1. MATERNITY BENEFIT ACT, 1961
2. Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016 passed in the Parliament- https://pib.gov.in/
4. THE ALL INDIA SERVICES (LEAVE) RULES, 1955
5. Creche Facility Under Maternity Benefit Amendment Act, 2017- https://www.mondaq.com/
7. "India's wrong approach to paid maternity leave"- The Mint
8. Maternity Benefit Act: The new amendments might cause some pangs in the short run-https://economictimes.