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In the year 2017, India passed a landmark amendment in the laws regarding maternity and child care. There are certain amendments made to the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 to protect the employment of women and the well being of children and women during the maternity period.
These amendments are called out to be required ones needed to match up to the modern age. Benefits like paid absence from work and other related requirements are added in the act via the said amendment. The new amended act is applicable to any organization or establishment hiring 10 or more employees working for a minimum period of 80 days in the immediately preceding 12 months period of the delivery date.
These amendments to the act have been regarded as an important step towards the inclusion of women into the workforce. It will be a cure for the botched-up gender ratio in the enterprises. But as every coin has two sides, these amendments are also not sans their own set of criticism.
What is the background of these benefits?
The Maternity Benefit Act was first introduced in India in the Legislative Council of Bombay on 28th of July, 1928. This act came up with certain important objectives and purposes that it sought to fulfil. The main objective of this act was to regulate the employment of women for the duration of her pregnancy along with a certain duration before and after the delivery.
The applicability of this act is upon any organization be it a factory, min, plantation, government establishment or anything where at least 10 or more people are employed at a time. Before the 2017 amendment, the provisions were slightly different but with the amendment of 2017 there have been several changes in the maternity benefits. The bill for this amendment was placed in the parliament in 2016 while was passed in the year 2017.
What are the maternity benefits available in India?
In order to protect the rights of the working women during their pregnancy period and even after child-birth, the Indian law makes it a necessity for most of the employers to offer maternity benefits to their women employees. Maternity benefits in India are majorly governed by the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 which has been recently amended in the year 2017 and applies to all establishments with 10 or more employees. There are several maternity benefits provided to the employees:
- Wages: The act provides that women will be paid maternity benefit at the rate of their average daily wage in 3 months preceding their maternity leave.
- Leaves: The act provides for a maternity leave up to 26 weeks if the employee has less than 2 surviving children. In case there two surviving children, the maximum maternity benefit is up to 12 weeks. Even in cases of adoption, where a woman is adopting a child of less than 3 months, she can take a maternity leave of 12 weeks from the date of receiving such child.
- Other benefits: The law also allows employers to permit women employees to work from home in addition to the maternity benefit period. The amendment also made it compulsory for establishments with more than 50 employees to establish creches (nurseries where babies are cared for during the working day). And the women employees are permitted to visit the creche four times a day which includes their interval period. The employer cannot dismiss a woman for taking maternity leave. Medical bonus will also have to be paid by the employer.
What child-care benefits are available in India?
For a regular Indian employee, there is an extremely important child care benefit that is available to them. Indian employees are eligible to receive a child care reimbursement of up to Rs. 8000/- per month per child for up to three children. There are two kinds of reimbursements available under this law based on the age of the child, namely:
- Nanny care expenses: For children up to 3 years.
- Day-care expenses: For children up to 10 years.
This reimbursement child care facility comes along with the creche facility available under the maternity benefit. This benefit is taxable.
Criticism and scope for further improvement:
While the idea behind such an amendment has been extremely strong and appreciative, it comes with its own set of financial burden for the employer. And thus, the implementation of these amendments has become an even more challenging task. One of the major challenges as faced by the employers is to find a trustworthy and right partner for the provision of creche facilities in the establishment.
The ambiguity in the said rules have also been cited as one of the major criticisms of the amendments of the act. Although, these amendments were brought in with the purpose of reducing the gender inequality at the working spaces, it seems that the challenges set up in the implementation of these rules have led to an even poorer condition of women at their workplaces, as many establishments have started hiring less women due to these rules. With the new amendment, there are several other criticisms that are there as well:
- Gender discrimination against women based on child-bearing age.
- Various types of burdens on the employer.
- Women will lose out on their jobs.
In the modern age, it has become extremely important to have a gender inclusive workplace. However, it is also important to understand that the challenges in terms of implementation of these amended rules have to be covered first. Besides struggling with financial constraints like bearing the additional costs and loss of business hours in the process of supporting working parents, organizations also have to deal with the biases that the society holds.
While large MNCs like Accenture, HUL, Infosys and IBM have had strong policies around a gender inclusive culture, other organizations are now catching up and introducing initiatives to build a gender inclusive culture.
–This article is brought to you in collaboration with Aprajita Jha from National Law University and Judicial Academy, Assam.