Maternity Benefit(Amendment)Act of 2017
Author: Ms. Riya Kumar, DME, Noida.
This article discusses the Maternity Benefit Act which safeguards working women and their rights to remain self-reliant and economically independent. The fundamental purpose of providing maternity benefits is to preserve the self-respect for motherliness, protect the health of women, complete safety of the child, etc. Due to the increasing number of women employees in the government and private sector, it became necessary to grant maternity leave and other maternity allowances to working women.
Maternity Benefit Act 1961, protects the employment of women during the time of her maternity. The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, passed by the parliament last year, has made it mandatory for the private establishments with more than 10 employees to grant 26 weeks maternity leave to women. The act further mandates that every company with more than 50 employees must establish crèche facilities and should have the provision of work from home if the nature of work permits to do so.
Through the Act, the government intends to empower women by increasing their workforce participation and overall well-being. It protects the employment of women during the time of her maternity. As per the ‘India Development Report’ by World, BankIndia has one of the lowest female participation rates in the workforce; it merely stands at 27%, whereas countries like China and Brazil boasts of good participation rates somewhere in between 65-70%.
With this amendment, the government also seeks to facilitate breastfeeding and improve infant and maternal mortality rate which will have a direct bearing on the economy. A 2017 report released by the Global Breastfeeding Collective, led by UNICEF and the World Health Organization, termed breastfeeding the “best investment in global health” which generates $35 in global return for every dollar invested. India hopes to catch up on this in the years to come.
In the case ofKameshwari Rao, Vice President, People Strategy, Sapient India, it is believed that “the Maternity Benefits Act is a progressive step taken by the government which is in line with India’s initiatives towards changing the gender balance in the country. The act will not only help women to maintain a balance in their personal and professional lives but will also contribute to the economy of India.
In India women also work for daily wages. So the question arises are they eligible for the Maternity Benefit Act?
In Municipal Corporation of Delhi v. Female Workers’ (Muster Rolls) and Another, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi stated that it granted maternity leave to its regular female workers but not to the daily wage ones, that is, the ones on the muster rolls. The respondents argued that the practice was unfair as there was hardly any difference in the work allotted to female workers who were regular and those who were on a daily wage.
Accepting the contention, the Supreme Court upheld the right of female construction workers to be granted maternity leave by extending the scope of the Maternity Benefits Act, 1961 to daily wage workers.
The objective of maternity benefits is to protect the dignity of “Motherhood” by providing the complete & health care to the women & her child when she is not able to perform her duty due to her health condition.
There is a need for maternity benefits so that a woman is to be able to give quality time to her child without having to worry about whether she will lose her job and source of income.
After analyzing various provisions of the 1961 Act and related cases it can be concluded that Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 is a boon for the working women in the sense that they do not have job insecurity during their maternity period. But there are certain shortcomings of the Act which needs to be looked upon.
Firstly, the duration of leave must be extended in order to allow a mother to fully recover and recuperate as well as efficiently nursing her newborn child.
Secondly, there are huge gaps in its implementation as the entire responsibility of the Act rests with the employer.
Thirdly, the responsibility of childcare is often singularly put upon women. This reinforces patriarchal notions and stereotypes and also enhances the discrimination they face from employers. In order to reduce these factors, the Act should also make a provision for paternity leave and follow a more egalitarian approach. Also, protection should be available to persons who adopt children.