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The Maternity Benefits (Amendment) Bill 2016

Parliament cleared the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill 2016 which is an improvement on the original Act. The bill aims to provide working women maternity leave and pre- natal and post-natal healthcare benefits.

Highlights of the bill:

  • The amendment extends the 12-week paid leave as provided in the original bill to 26 weeks. However, a woman with two or more children will be entitled to only 12 weeks of maternity leave.
  • For a woman who adopts a child below the age of three months and for commissioning mothers, a provision of 12 weeks of maternity leave is introduced in the bill.
  • The bill mandates that every establishment with 50 or more employees should provide crèche facilities for their employees.
  • The bill provides for a clause in which the employer may permit a women employee to work from home based on mutual agreement between them.
  • The bill mandates that the employer provides information to the employee about all benefits that she would be entitled to under the provisions of the bill at the time of her appointment. All such information should be formally communicated in writing.

Key Issues associated with the bill:

  • As the cost of the maternity benefits is borne by the employer, it might adversely impact job opportunities for women. Since maternal and child health is a part of public good, it would be appropriate that the government finances such social security measures
  • Maternity Protection Conventions of the ILO have stated that employers should not be exclusively liable for providing maternity benefits
  • The Bill covers women workers in the formal sector that are employed in establishments with 10 or more employees. However, majority of the women workforce in India are employed in the unorganized sector.
  • Women workers in the unorganized sector includes agricultural labour, seasonal workers, domestic workers and construction workers.
  • Women with two children will not be eligible for 26 weeks paid leave for the third child. This could affect the growth and development of the third born child.
  • While the bill provides enhanced maternity leave, the Maternity Benefit programme which provides financial assistance to the expecting mothers will now be restricted only to the firstborn child
  • There exists a lack of uniformity across labour laws that are related to maternity benefits
  • The bill does not consider the demand for an increased paternity leave
  • The amended law does not have any provision that provides for a mechanism to professionally nurture the pregnant woman who is on maternity leave

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