The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016

12/8/2016 347 Social Issues | Gender issues | View Recent Current Affairs

  •  This bill amends the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961. 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.

Highlights

  • Duration of maternity leave: The Act states that every woman will be entitled to maternity benefit of 12 weeks. The Bill increases this to 26 weeks.
  • Under the Act, this maternity benefit should not be availed before six weeks from the date of expected delivery. The Bill changes this to eight weeks.
  • In case of a woman who has two or more children, the maternity benefit will continue to be 12 weeks, which cannot be availed before six weeks from the date of the expected delivery.
  • Maternity leave for adoptive and commissioning mothers: The Bill introduces a provision to grant 12 weeks of maternity leave to: (i) a woman who legally adopts a child below three months of age; and (ii) a commissioning mother. A commissioning mother is defined as a biological mother who uses her egg to create an embryo implanted in another woman.
  • The 12-week period of maternity benefit will be calculated from the date the child is handed over to the adoptive or commissioning mother.
  • Option to work from home: The Bill introduces a provision that states that an employer may permit a woman to work from home. This would apply if the nature of work assigned to the woman permits her to work from home. This option can be availed of, after the period of maternity leave, for a duration that is mutually decided by the employer and the woman.
  • Crèche facilities: The Bill introduces a provision which requires every establishment with 50 or more employees to provide crèche facilities within a prescribed distance. The woman will be allowed four visits to the crèche in a day. This will include her interval for rest.
  • Informing women employees of the right to maternity leave: 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.

Analysis:

  • Extended leave for maternity is good news for India’s poor and declining female workforce participation. Women in India represent only 24% of the paid labour force, as against the global average of 40%, according to a recent McKinsey Global Institute report. In the 15-59 years age group, women’s participation is only 32% in rural areas compared with 83% for men, and 21% in urban areas as against 81% for men.
  • Usually, economic growth in lower-middle-income countries leads to the creation of more jobs for women. But the latest National Sample Survey Office data shows that India’s female labour force participation rate fell nearly seven percentage points to 22.5% between 2004-05 and 2011-12 .
  • With the passage of this bill, India will join the league of 42 countries where maternity leave exceeds 18 weeks. The International Labour Organization (ILO) recommends a minimum standard maternity leave of 14 weeks, though it encourages countries to increase it to at least 18 weeks.
  • In a country where child rearing is supposed to be the responsibility of the mother alone, marriage and not career is perceived to be the primary goal of a woman—no matter which profession she is in. For women who are working, striking a work-life balance becomes difficult because few employers provide flexible working hours or crèches. Requests for maternity benefits are often rejected outright.
  • Between 2008 and 2012, India’s labour courts received more than 900 complaints of denial of maternity benefits by employers. At the same time, most working women, when denied maternity benefits, simply stop working rather than going to court.
  • Women in India are largely employed in the informal, semi-skilled or unskilled sectors, where incomes are low, and benefits and job security are limited. According to the ILO, in 2011-12, while 62.8% of women were employed in the agriculture sector, only 20% were employed in industry and 17% in the services sector.
  • This, despite the fact that education levels and school and college enrolment among girls are rising. The gross enrolment ratio (GER) of girls in elementary education has improved from 66% in 1991 to 97% in 2014 ; so too has the GER of girls in higher education—from 7.5% in 2002-03 to close to 20% in 2012-13. In fact, women account for 51% of all post-graduates in India today.
  • The economic argument is incontrovertible. With equality in the labour force, India’s gross domestic product in 2025 would be 60% higher even if women’s work status remained at current levels, with deeply entrenched ideas about gender roles, according to a report by McKinsey & Co.

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