Maternity Bill

MATERNITY BENEFIT (AMENDMENT) BILL 2016

The government, through an amendment to the Maternity Benefit Act, has enhanced the paid maternity leave for women in the organized sector to 26 weeks from the current 12. This move is in line with several expert recommendations including that of the World Health Organization, which recommends exclusive breastfeeding of children for the first 24 weeks.

Once the amendment to the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, comes into effect, only Canada and Norway will be ahead of India, with 50 and 44 weeks of paid leave, respectively.

Provisions in the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016:

  • Maternity leave for children beyond the first two will continue to be 12 weeks.
  • Maternity leave of 12 weeks to be available to mothers adopting a child below the age of three months as well as to the “commissioning mothers”. The commissioning mother has been defined as biological mother who uses her egg to create an embryo planted in any other woman.
  • Every establishment with more than 50 employees to provide for crèche facilities for working mothers and such mothers will be permitted to make four visits during working hours to look after and feed the child in the crèche.
  • The employer may permit a woman to work from home if it is possible to do so.
  • Every establishment will be required to make these benefits available to the women from the time of her appointment.

Statistics:

In 2012 only 27% of Indian women worked compared to 63% in East Asia. This deficit shaves off an estimated 2.5% from the country’s gross domestic product every year. Worse still, India is one of the few countries where women’s participation in the workforce has actually fallen—the International Labour Organization reported last year that female participation declined from 34.1% in 1999-00 to 27.2% in 2011-12. There is also a stark rural-urban divide: In 1972-73, women comprised 31.8% of all rural workers; in 2011-12, that figure had dropped to 24.8%. For urban workers, the number has increased only marginally, from 13.4% to 14.7% in that same time period.

Benefits of maternity leave:

  • Will reduce the risk of infant mortality
  • Breastfeeding will have positive bearings on child’s physical & mental health
  • Adequate maternity leave will help prevent postpartum depression and stress in new mothers.
  •  Women workers are more likely to return to the workforce
  • A survey by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India last year found that 25% of urban Indian women quit their jobs after having their first child. Extended maternity leave might help change this pattern.

Key Issues and Analysis:

  • Women in unorganized sector aren’t covered. They are entitled to a mere cash benefit of Rs6000 under the Maternity Benefit Programme.
  • Job opportunities for women may be adversely impacted for the cost of this leave is to be borne by the employer. (The International Labour Organisation (ILO) Maternity Protection Conventions have stated that employers should not be exclusively liable for the cost of providing maternity benefits to their women employees. It has recommended that the benefits should be provided through compulsory social insurance or public funds.)
  •  While 26 week leave is for the first two children, it is 12 week in case of a third born child. It could affect the growth and development of the third born.
  • Lack of uniformity across labour laws related to maternity benefits.
  • the Bill leaves out surrogate mothers as statutory beneficiaries of the

Bill

  • issue of paternity leave not addressed, removing the onus of childcare from men

Constitutional Provisions:

  •  Article 42, provide for “just and humane conditions for work and for maternity relief”.
  •  Labour comes under the Concurrent List of the Constitution
  • Article 15(3) safeguards the rights of the women and their health.
  • Article 39 which is a mandatory obligation upon the State to make policies in order to secure the economic justice wherein more particularly Article 39(e) which ensures health and strength to workers and also 39(f) wherein children are prohibited from material abandonment.

Conclusion:

Women’s empowerment can be achieved through more progressive and universal initiatives, not limiting benefits and restricting their coverage. It is high time we recognize the greater role of fathers in parenting and make required provisions. Access to welfare support has become even more critical as workers migrate frequently due to economic changes. The twin imperatives are, therefore, to create more jobs for women in a diversified economy, and to provide social opportunity through maternal and child welfare measures. India’s problem is not just about ensuring women return to the workforce after childbirth but in bringing women into the workforce in the first place.

References:

https://thelawblog.in/2016/11/12/maternity-benefit- amendment-bill2016/

http://www.firstpost.com/india/maternity-bill- fails-to- keep-working- mothers-interest- in-forefront-3332174.html

http://www.livemint.com/Opinion/wsvYFn0yr2I6TB0yvfPykK/The-welcome- idea-of- more-maternity-leave.html

http://www.prsindia.org/billtrack/the-maternity- benefit-amendment- bill-2016- 4370/

http://www.insightsonindia.com/2017/03/15/insights-editorial- economics-maternity- leave/

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