FIINOVATION REVIEWS – THE NEW MATERNITY BENEFIT BILL

The Government gifts the Amended Maternity Bill as the Woman’s Day gift for the working women in India as the Parliament approves the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016. The Bill was introduced in Rajya Sabha on August 11, 2016 by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Mr. Bandaru Dattatreya and passed on 9th March, 2017.

“This is my humble gift to women, a day after the world celebrated International Women’s Day,” he said after about a four-hour debate in the Lok Sabha. He also informed that while finalising the Bill, few amendments were made in the old law to ensure that pregnant women derive maximum benefit from the law.

Fiinovation applauds the move as India joins the league of small consortium of countries with progressive maternity leave policy in system for the working women. Now, India ranks third in terms of number of weeks allotted for maternity leave with Canada and Norway leading at 50 and 44 weeks respectively.

The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 was introduced to protect the health and employment of working women during their maternity tenure. As per this Bill, the women employed in companies with minimum 10 employees were entitled to 12 weeks of paid maternity leave. However, the new bill has increased the tenure of paid maternity leave for first two children from 12 weeks to 26 weeks. However, for the third child it will be limited to 12 weeks. It also includes the 12 weeks paid leave provision for women legally adopting children under three months and mothers having children through surrogacy. In the later case, the 12-week period will commence from the date when the child is handed over to the mother. As per the Bill, every company employing 50 or more women employees is entitled to provide the creche facilities within a prescribed distance, allowing at least four visits to the creche during the day.

Other major amendments allows a woman to avail work from home opportunity after joining back from the maternity leave on mutually agreed terms between the employer and the woman. It mandates all the organisations to inform a woman about all the benefits included in the bill during the time of her appointment through both written and electronic medium.

Additionally, there are various other labour laws like the Employees’ State Insurance Act, 1948 which entitles the payment of wages to an insured woman, during her 12-week maternity leave. Even, the women employed in newspapers or working as journalists are entitled to similar maternity leave under the Working Journalists (Conditions of Service) and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1955. Further, women employed in the central government are provided about 24 weeks of paid maternity leave and additional child care leave up to a period of two years.

Although progressive and applauding but still it has left many important aspects untouched. Fiinovation reviews that this bill is entitled to benefit only 1.8 million women working in the organised sector as they constitute only 10% of the women workforce. It fails to include the women belonging to the weak and marginalised sections of the society as 90% of the women workforce is employed in the unorganised sector belong to the lower strata of the society. It includes women working as seasonal labourers working at construction and agricultural sites, contractual labours and domestic workers. The Bill lacks to cover them under its ambit as they lack eligibility under the 1961 Act such as continuous employment or a period of 80 days in the one year prior to the date of delivery. Hence, it portrays a huge disparity among the allotted benefits amongst the different sections of the society.

Experts also argue that the Bill could have an adverse impact on the job opportunities available for women. As it requires an employer to pay full wages during the maternity leave, many companies may consider it as a financial burden and prefer to hire male candidates on critical positions. Although, International Labour Organisation (ILO) Maternity Protection Conventions has proposed that the complete burden should not be borne by the organisations as suddenly the compensation period has increased from 12 to 26 weeks. It recommends compensating through public funds, insurance schemes, etc. Various countries like UK, Germany, Australia and Norway compensate by combining funds from the government and employer or national security fund.

A government official, who has been part of the debate in parliament argued that, “A father also has equal responsibility towards the child like a mother and paternity benefits would help a couple to raise their child together as majority are now nuclear families”. In fact, another government official from West Bengal shared saying that the government in its state is already providing the paternity leave of 30 days. Additionally, the benefits should extend to single father adopting children who are currently excluded from the Bill.

Fiinovation recommends that instead of introducing different bills and schemes, the government should introduce a uniform policy to benefit every employed woman rather parent in the country. Not only this, a strict monitoring mechanism should be implemented to ensure that women receive these benefits as currently only a handful of leading corporates in India have been strictly following these norms.

As quoted by in a report by Mckinsey Global Institute “Achieving gender equality in India would have a larger economic impact there than in any other region in the world – $700 billion of added GDP in 2025 – but comprehensive change is needed.” Fiinovation second with the though and feels that the New Maternity Bill is an important step towards the same and will certainly act as an impetus for women empowerment since they will be able to strike a healthy balance between personal and professional life.

By Manisha Bhatia

Media & Communications, Fiinovation

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