The amendments made in Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 has resulted in the introduction of Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016 which was passed by Rajya Sabha on 11th August, 2016. It is a huge step for the betterment and overall development of women.
Objective of this bill
The objective of Maternity Benefit (Amendment Bill) is to govern the provisions pertaining to maternity benefits which include the time period of maternity leave and other facilities that could actually help working women to pursue their career and professional dreams even when they embrace motherhood. It intends to secure the employment of women during their maternity period and also entitles them necessary maternity benefits.
Applicability of the bill
The bill is applicable to all the establishments that employ 10 or more employees but it is observed that it is mainly going to benefit organized sector than the unorganized sector. As such, the existing Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 is applicable to even factories, mines, plantations, shops and other commercial establishments.
Key provisions of the bill
The key provisions of the amendment bill are as under:
- Maternity Leave period: The bill proposes a commendable extension in the maternity leave period as provided to a female employee from 12 weeks to 26 weeks. The duration of maternity leave prior to the due date of expected delivery has also been extended from 6 weeks to 8 weeks. The reason behind these provisions is that maternal care is extremely vital during the early years of a child.
- Condition: This benefit of extended maternity leave benefit can be availed by only those women employees who have up to 2 children. In other cases, the earlier provided maternity leave will be applicable only up to 12 weeks, wherein the maternity leave prior to the due date of expected delivery will not be over 6 weeks.
- Maternity benefit for Commissioning and Adoptive Mother: The amendment bill introduces the terms ‘Commissioning Mother’ and ‘Adoptive Mother’ and also provides them maternity benefits in the Act. Commissioning Mother is the biological mother who uses her egg to create an embryo implanted in some other woman. She will be allowed a maternity leave of 12 weeks from the date on which child is handed over by that another woman. Adoptive Mother is the one who legitimately adopts a child under three (3) years of age. She will be granted 12 weeks maternity leave benefit from the time on which they will be permitted to take away the child.
- Choice to ‘work-from-home’ to female employees, if their job allows them: If the nature of the work of a female employee allows her to work from her home, then this benefit will act as a huge support for them. The Government has not yet defined and addressed the concept of ‘what work can be carried out from home’. The benefit of ‘work from home’ can be utilized after the completion of their maternity leave benefit of 26 weeks, for such time period, as mutually agreed upon by the employer and employee and on mutually suitable conditions.
- Crèche facility is to be compulsorily provided by certain establishments: Any establishment having 50 and more employees is required to provide crèche facility either along with common facilities or separately. In addition to this, the employer would grant permission to his/her women employee to visit the crèche, a minimum of 4 times in a given day, which will also include her rest breaks. The amendment is yet to define common facilities and scope of term ‘employees’ and how they are to provide crèche facilities with other establishments in proximity?
- Intimation pertaining to maternity benefit rules is a right of an employee: The bill clearly requires the establishment to properly intimate, i.e. in writing or via electronic means, the female employees about their maternity benefits when the same applies to them. It is an obligation to every employer to notify their new appointments about the same.
- Many clauses of the Maternity Benefit Act, remain the same and unaffected. Any female working in an organization for 80 and above days during the time period of twelve months from the date preceding her expected date of delivery would be eligible under the provisions under the act. The act prohibits any employer or organization from offering employment to a female right after her delivery for a time period of six weeks, termination of pregnancy or after a miscarriage.
- Penalties for not complying with the provisions of the Maternity Benefit Act: The penalties as imposed on the organization on non compliance is prescribed under Maternity Benefit Act,1961, whereby, the employer will have to bear following penalties if they fail to pay maternity benefits mentioned in the amendment act:-
- Imprisonment for 3 months up to 1 year; and
- Fine from Rs.2000/- to Rs.5000/-
India has made commendable progress in empowering the status of women in the society. The recent amendments to the Maternity Benefits Act by the Government are considered as big steps towards creating a mightier women workforce and bringing positive improvements in securing the employment rights of women. Currently, these amendments are majorly benefitting women working in the organized sector and not those women who are working in unorganized sector. It still need to focus on their requirements and needs. The Bill is yet to be passed by Lok Sabha but the initiatives taken by the Government is indicating positive growth in the economy.
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