The Lok Sabha on March 9, 2017 passed the Maternal Benefits (Amendments) Bill, 2016 (“the Bill”), a day after the world celebrated the International Women’s Day. The provisions of the Bill significantly amend the Maternal Benefits Act, 1961(“the Act”). This Bill is considered one of the landmark bills to be passed in the Parliament of India.
Who is covered by the Maternity Benefits Act, 1961?
The Act covers women workers employed in factories, mines, plantations, shops or any other establishments, which consist of 10 or more employees. The organized sector consist of more than 1.8 million working women, who will be affect by this amendment.
What are the amendments proposed in the Bill?
- Earlier, women were entitled to maternity benefits up to a period of 12 weeks. Benefits could be availed by women for a period extending up to 6 weeks before the expected delivery date and extending up to 6 weeks after the childbirth.
The Bill has significantly changed the period of benefit from 12 weeks to 26 weeks. Now the period has been increased by 8 weeks before the expected date of delivery and remaining 18 weeks to be availed post childbirth. Employers will have to pay their female employees full wages for this period. A woman with two or more children is entitled to only 12 weeks of leave.
Employers will have to pay their female employees full wages for this period.
- The Bill extends certain benefits under the Act to adoptive mothers as well. The Bill provides that every woman who adopts a child below three months shall be entitled to 12 weeks of maternity leave, from the date of adoption. Earlier, no such benefits were available to adoptive mothers.
- The Bill also makes it mandatory for companies with more than 50 employees to provide a crèche facility within a prescribed distance. Women shall be allowed four visits to the crèche in a day.
- The Bill permits women to work from home if the nature of work assigned to her permits to do so. However this has to be mutually agreed upon by the employer and the employee.
- The Bill requires the employer to inform women at the time of their appointment, of all the maternity benefits that is available to them under the Bill.
Once the Bill receives the President’s assent, India will become the country with third highest maternity leave. Canada and Norway grant 50 weeks and 44 weeks respectively. The Ministry of Women and Child Development said, that it is a “historic day for women” and also added that the Bill will “pave the way for a healthy and secure mother and a well-nourished child”. Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi called it a “momentous step” and thanked her colleagues for supporting the Bill. Observing that labour falls in the Concurrent List, the minister appealed to states to ensure all benefits reach women.