- The amendments to the Maternity Benefit Act, introduced the provision of 26 weeks of paid maternity leave and the mandatory crèche facility,withconcerns over their feasibility as recently the Labour Ministry placed the financial burden of implementing these measures directly on the employers.
The purpose of the amendments
- The amendments seek to improve infant mortality rate (34 per 1,000 live births) and maternal mortality rate (167 per 100,000 live births), but the challenge lies in their implementation.
- The crèche facility is cost-intensive and may deter employers from hiring or retaining pregnant women.
A 2014 International LabourOrganization report
- The report specifically cautions against making employers solely liable for the cost of maternity benefits.
- It advocates that maternity benefits should be provided either through compulsory social insurance or public funds.
The suggestions by Standing Committee on Labour in 2007
- The Committee had suggested that the government should create a corpus fund to partially sponsor the costs to be incurred by the employer to provide maternity benefits.
- However, no government has shown the will to change this status quo even though the state and society have much to gain from ensuring effective implementation of maternity benefits.
What are the health benefits?
- One of the key goals of any maternity benefit policy is to facilitate breastfeeding by working mothers. Studies have shown that health benefits that accrue to both the mother and her child by breastfeeding are more than matched by economic returns at family, enterprise and national levels.
- A 2017 report released by the Global Breastfeeding Collective, led by UNICEF and the World Health Organisation, has termed breastfeeding the “best investment in global health” generating $35 in global return for every dollar invested.
- A ‘Global Breastfeeding Scorecard, 2017’ released shows that India spends an awful $0.15 (less than ₹10) per child to ensure that it meets the breastfeeding guidelines.
- The report suggests that India is poised to lose an estimated $14 billion in its economy, or 0.70% of its Gross National Income, due to a high level of child mortality and growing number of deaths in women from cancers and Type II diabetes, directly attributable to inadequate breastfeeding.
What can be done?
- The government should take responsibility of the financial responsibility of providing maternity benefits. This could be implemented by enabling employers to seek reimbursement of the expenses incurred by them in this respect.
- The government needs to look into innovative and cost-effective ways to ensure that working women are not forced to discontinue breastfeeding.
- A simple method is to express breast milk and store it to be given to their children while they are away. The only provision that needs to be provided by employers to facilitate this would be a clean and private pumping room.
The fundamental purpose of Maternity leave benefits
- The fundamental purpose for 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.
- 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 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 her source of income.
Need of Maternity leave benefits
- Economic dependence of women gives rise to their subordination in society today. Hence to remove such subordination and to lay the foundation of equality women too must be made economically independent. To support such initiative the Government must provide some conditions which are suitable for the needs of women.
- To curb such problem and protect the economic rights of women there is need for maternity benefits for a female employee.
- Women are entitled to these benefits as the child bearing process is intensely painful and can cause bodily damage.
- This may severely affect the future work of the woman as an employee and decrease her productivity so there is a need for maternity benefits for the women worker.
- To safeguard working women and their rights to remain self-reliant and economically independent, maternity benefits are required.
- Whatever is needed to facilitate the birth of child to a woman who is in service, the employer has to be considerate and sympathetic towards her and must realize the physical difficulties which a working woman would face in performing her duties at the work place while carrying a baby in the womb or while rearing up the child after birth.
- To remove the hardship of the women workers, the concept of maternity benefit is needed in order to enable the women workers to carry on the social function of child.
Maternity benefit and Indian Constitution
- Article 15(3) of the Indian Constitution empowers the State to make special provisions for women. The main object of Article 15 (3) is based on “protective discrimination” keeping in view the weak physical position of women.
- The purpose is that a “women’s physical structure and the performance of maternal functions places her at a disadvantaged position in the struggle for subsistence, and her physical well-being becomes an object of public interest. This provision has enabled the State to make special statutory provisions exclusively for the welfare of women.
- Article 21, Right to Life and Personal Liberty means the right to lead meaningful, complete and dignified life. It does not have restricted meaning. Therefore, the State must guarantee to a pregnant working woman all the facilities and assistance that she requires while protecting her employment as well as her own and her child’s health.
- The Directive Principles of State Policy contained in Part IV of the Constitution of India, under Article 41 requires the State to make effective provision for securing the right to work and to education.
- Article 42 requires that the State shall make provision for securing just and humane conditions of work and for maternity relief.
The Maternity Benefit Act 1961
- The Object of the Act is to protect the dignity of motherhood and the dignity of a new person’s birth by providing for the full and healthy maintenance of the woman and her child at this important time when she is not working.
Benefits under the Act:
- Leave with average pay for six weeks before the delivery
- Leave with average pay for six weeks after the delivery
- A medical bonus if the employer does not provide free medical care to the woman
- An additional leave with pay up to one month if the woman shows proof of illness due to the pregnancy, delivery, miscarriage or premature birth
- In case of miscarriage, six weeks leave with average pay from the date of miscarriage.
- Light work for ten weeks (six weeks plus one month) before the date of her expected delivery, if she asks for it
- Two nursing breaks in the course of her daily work until the child is 15 months old
- No discharge or dismissal while she is on maternity leave
- No change to her disadvantage in any of the conditions of her employment while on maternity leave
- Pregnant women discharged or dismissed may still claim maternity benefit from the employer.
- Under the Maternity Benefits Act, 1961 the condition levied is that the female employee should have served the institution for a minimum period of 80 days in 12 months preceding the date of expected delivery.
- Also, the Act has undergone regular amendments with the recent one being in 2008. Here, the minimum medical bonus in case of inability of employer to provide free medical care to pregnant women employee was raised from Rs 25 to Rs.1000 extending to Rs. 20000.
- The Act provides for 12 weeks of paid leave as maternity leave and 6 weeks in case of miscarriage or termination of pregnancy.
- In addition to the provisions for leave and cash benefits, the Act also makes provisions for matters like light work for pregnant women 10 weeks prior to her delivery, nursing breaks during daily work till the child attends age of 15 months, etc.
- The Act serves as a protective umbrella as it restricts termination of service of a pregnant woman employee except on grounds of misconduct. Moreover, it imposes punishment for a period of minimum three months or fine extending to Rs. 5000 on the employer, in the event of any failure to provide maternity benefits to female employee