Insights into Editorial: On maternity benefits

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Insights into Editorial: On maternity benefits


Context:

The amendments to the Maternity Benefit Act, which were introduced this year, in particular the provision of 26 weeks of paid maternity leave and the mandatory crèche facility, are path-breaking, but there are concerns over their feasibility. Recently, the Labour Ministry placed the financial burden of implementing these measures squarely on the employers; this legitimises these concerns.

Maternity Benefit Act

Need

With the advent of modern age, as the number of women employees is growing, the maternity leave and other maternity benefits are becoming increasingly common. 

But there was no beneficial piece of legislation in the horizon which is intended to achieve the object of doing social justice to women workers employed in factories, mines and plantation.

Objective:

Providing maternity leave and benefit to women employee to protect the dignity of motherhood by providing for the full and healthy maintenance of women and her child.

Applicability of Maternity Benefit Act, 1961

The Act is to regulate the employment of women in certain establishments for certain period before and after child-birth and to provide for maternity benefit and certain other benefits.

  • It applies to every establishment being a factory, mine or plantation including any such establishment belonging to Government and to every establishment wherein persons are employed for the exhibition of equestrian, acrobatic and other performances.
  • It will also apply to every shop or establishment within the meaning of any law for the time being in force in relation to shops and establishments in a State, in which ten or more persons are employed on any day of the preceding twelve months.

Key Amendment to the Act

The provisions of The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017 is effective from April 01, 2017.

The amendments seek to improve infant mortality rate (34 per 1,000 live births) and maternal mortality rate (167 per 100,000 live births.

  1. Increased Paid Maternity Leave:
  • The Maternity Benefit Amendment Act has increased the duration of paid maternity leave available for women employees from the existing 12 weeks to 26 weeks. 
  • Under the Act, this benefit could be availed by women for a period extending up to 8 weeks before the expected delivery date and remaining 18 weeks can be availed post childbirth.
  • For women who are expecting after having 2 children, the duration of paid maternity leave shall be 12 weeks.

 

  1. Maternity leave for adoptive and commissioning mothers
  • Every woman who adopts a child shall be entitled to 12 weeks of maternity leave, from the date of adoption

 

  1. Work from Home option:
  • This may be exercised after the expiry of the 26 weeks’ leave period.
  • Depending upon the nature of work, women employees may be able to avail this benefit on terms that are mutually agreed with the employer.

 

  1. Crèche facility
  • The Act makes crèche facility mandatory for every establishment employing 50 or more employees.
  • Women employees would be permitted to visit the crèche 4 times during the day.

The Maternity Benefit Amendment Act makes it mandatory for employers to educate women about the maternity benefits available to them at the time of their appointment.

Challenges for the implementation of the Act

  1. Cost intensive
  • The measures introduced, particularly the crèche facility, are cost-intensive and may deter employers from hiring or retaining pregnant women.
  • A 2014 International Labour Organisation report specifically cautions against making employers solely liable for the cost of maternity benefits for this reason.

                Solution:

  • Maternity benefits can be provided either through compulsory social insurance or public funds.
  • The government should create a corpus fund to partially sponsor the costs to be incurred by the employer to provide maternity benefits.

 

  1. Less spending per child to meet the breastfeeding guidelines
  • One of the key goals of the act 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.
  • But, a ‘Global Breastfeeding Scorecard, 2017’ released by the Collective shows that India spends an abysmal $0.15 (less than ₹10) per child to ensure that it meets the breastfeeding guidelines. As a result, India is poised to lose an estimated $14 billion in its economy 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.

 

Way Forward

It is time for the government to shoulder 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.
  • In addition, the government must find 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.
  • Employers need to facilitate a clean and private pumping room.

Government has to show the will to change this status quo by ensuring effective implementation of maternity benefits.