The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016 was introduced in Rajya Sabha on August 11, 2016 by the Minister for Labour and Employment, Mr. Bandaru Dattatreya. The Bill amends the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961. The Bill has been passed by Rajya Sabha.
The Act regulates the employment of women during the period of child-birth, and provides maternity benefits. The Act applies to factory, mines, plantations, shops and other establishments. The Bill amends provisions related to the duration and applicability of maternity leave, and other facilities
Provisions of the Bill:
Four major changes have been made to the law relating to maternity benefits. These are
- Firstly, it extends the period of maternity benefit from 12 weeks to 26 weeks of which not more than eight weeks can precede the date of the expected delivery. This exceeds the International Labour Organisation’s minimum standard of 14 weeks and is a positive development. However, a woman who has two or more surviving children will be entitled to 12 weeks of which not more than six weeks can precede the date of the expected delivery.
- Secondly, women who legally adopt a child below the age of three months or a “commissioning mother” will be entitled to maternity benefit for 12 weeks from the date on which the child is handed over to her. A commissioning mother is defined as a biological mother who uses her egg to create an embryo implanted in another woman.
- Thirdly, it gives discretion to employers to allow women to work from home after the period of maternity benefit on mutually agreeable conditions. This would apply if the nature of work assigned to the woman permits her to work from home
- Fourthly, it requires establishments having 50 or more employees to have a crèche facility, either separately or along with common facilities. Further, employers should allow the woman to visit the crèche four times a day, which “shall also include the interval for rest allowed to her.”
- The Bill introduces a provision which requires every establishment to intimate a woman at the time of her appointment of the maternity benefits available to her. Such communication must be in writing and electronically.
Assessment of the Bill:
- The Bill is steeped in an androcentric notion of family and the workplace. It assumes that only a mother is a parent or primary caregiver, while a father is the provider and an employee bereft of an active responsibility in childcare.
- Restricting the option of working from home to only women also reinforces gender-based roles within the family. Provisions like these will inevitably cause employers to view these measures as an undue burden.
- While it may marginally improve the working conditions in the short term, the amendment will undoubtedly perpetuate and sustain the gender gap in employment and in pay scales.
- The Bill weakens the argument of “equal pay for equal work” as it can be argued rationally that work conditions for males and females differ and hence their pay scales should also differ. Thus the directive provided to the state under Article 39(a) is not being fulfilled.
- Adoptive parents are discriminated. It also discriminates against adoptive fathers and transgendered persons who may adopt, as it does not even recognise their right to parental benefits. The state appears to be incentivizing the adoption of younger babies and discouraging the adoption of older babies and children.
- It would benefit about 1.8 million women in the organised sector. The new law will be applicable to all establishments employing 10 or more people.
- At a time when female participation in Labour Force is way below the parity levels, as highlighted by McKinsey’s “The Power of Parity” report, this bill would go a long way in facilitating female entry in LFPR. Parity in LFPR would lead to boosting India’s GDP by 27% as highlighted by Christine Lagarde. It would reduce poverty and income inequality. She highlighted that Legal restriction exists in 90% of countries which limits women participation. This step is one of the ways to remove those legal and perception barriers for female participation in Labour Force.
- The Bill provides a maternity leave of 26 weeks which exceeds ILO’s minimum standard of 14 weeks and is a positive development. India will jump to third position in terms of the number of weeks for maternity leave after Norway (44) and Canada (50), said Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya while replying to a debate on the legislation
- Roughly one third of India’s children are malnourished. The increase in maternity leave as mandated by law from 12 weeks to 26 would help new mothers bond with their babies and also to enable them to breastfeed leading to enhanced nutrition and immunity for the child. Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months is widely believed to be the easiest and most cost-effective way to fight child malnutrition. Last year, the Rapid Survey of Children conducted by the WCD Ministry showed 29.4% of children were underweight, 15% were wasted (low weight for their height), and 38.7% were stunted (low height for their age).
- Such a step was long overdue as the family structure in India, especially in urban areas has changed from joint family to nuclear family, necessitating the presence of parents at home in the initial time post a child’s birth