Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016

The news

The Lok Sabha has passed the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016. The Bill had already been passed by the Rajya Sabha during the Winter Session.

About the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016

The Maternity Benefit Act 1961 protects the employment of women during the time of her maternity and entitles her of a ‘maternity benefit’ – i.e. full paid absence from work – to take care for her child.

The act is applicable to all establishments employing 10 or more persons.

The amendments will help 1.8 million (approx.) women workforce in organized sector.

Salient Features of the Bill
  • Maternity leave available to the working women to be increased from 12 weeks to 26 weeks for the first two children.
  • 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.
  • 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.
Rationale

The Maternity Benefit Programme is an incentive for pregnant and lactating women. It was introduced for:

  • No wage loss so that the woman can take adequate rest before and after delivery
  • Improving her health and nutrition during the period of pregnancy and lactation
  • Promoting breastfeed the child during the first six months of the birth. This is very vital for the development of the child.
Maternity leave and benefits around the world

What is maternity leave?

Maternity leave is a temporary period of absence from employment granted to expectant or new mothers during the months immediately before and after their pregnancy.

The maternity leave norms in different countries are as follows.

  • United States: The US federal government provides no paid maternity or parental leave to its employees, though they can use their sick days or vacation days that they have saved up. Just 11 percent of Americans employed by private industry have access to some sort of paid family leave.
  • United Kingdom: The length of maternity (or parental) leave in the UK is 52 weeks. Australia: In Australia, there is no maternity leave. There is “parental leave”, which means either the mother or father can take government-paid leave for up to 18 weeks.
  • Germany: Working mothers and fathers have equal entitlements to paid parental leave of up to 12 – 14 months, which can taken by one or both parents. France: French women are guaranteed 100 per cent of their pay for 16 weeks (six weeks before birth and 10 weeks after). For families with two children, women can take an additional 2.5 years of job-protected family leave.
  • Denmark: New mothers in Denmark get a total of 18 weeks of maternity leave: four weeks before the birth and 14 weeks after, all at full pay. During the 14-week period, the father can also take two consecutive weeks off. Sweden: Swedish couples are entitled to 480 days of parental leave, the longest in the world. Of those, 90 days are reserved for the father. However, parents receive only 80 per cent of their normal pay during their time off work.
  • India: Women working in the organized sector were entitled to 12 weeks of maternity leave. But with the passing of an amendment to the Maternity Benefit Bill, they will now be entitled to paid maternity leave of 26 weeks, which is expected to benefit about 1.8 million women. The entitlement will be for only up to first two children. For third child, the entitlement will be for only 12 weeks.

Other important facts

  • Only a few countries have no mandated paid maternity leave:
  • Liberia
  • Papua New Guinea
  • The United States
  • Same sex and adoptive parents are also eligible for leave benefits in:
  • France
  • UK
  • Canada
  • Sweden
Road ahead

Labour is in the Concurrent List of the Constitution. Therefore, the state governments have to play an active role to ensure that all benefits reach women.

The amendments are progressive in nature and would have positive impact on women participation and improve their work life balance.

The Central Government has already amended its service rules and is providing 26 weeks maternity leaves to its employees. The women working in Special Economic Zones (SEZs) would also be entitled to all benefits of the legislation.