India has recently increased its maternity benefits, qualifying us among the top 16 countries in the world that provide the longest paid maternity leave. We’ve listed everything you need to know about these changes under the Maternity Benefit Act.
1. What is the Maternity Benefit Act?
The Maternity Benefit Act 1961 protects women from being employed during her pregnancy, entitling her to full paid absence from work. The act applies to all companies employing 10 or more persons.
2. What is the Maternity Benefit Amendment Act?
The government amended the above Act in 2017 increasing maternity benefits. As per the amended act, here are all the things a pregnant woman is entitled to in India.
- Increased paid maternity leave
Maternity leave for women has increased from the previous 12 weeks to 26 weeks. So now pregnant women can avail maternity leave 8 weeks prior to the expected delivery date and continue it further by 18 weeks post the birth of the child. Even woman who are expecting their 3rd child get 12 weeks of paid leave i.e. 6 weeks before the delivery date and 6 weeks after the baby is born.
- Leave for adoptive mothers: Under the Maternity Benefit Amendment Act, any woman adopting a child shall also get 12 weeks of maternal leave. She can avail the leave from the date of adoption.
- Work from home option: The Maternity Benefit Amendment Act has also come up with an option to enable work from home for women after the 26 weeks of leave. However, this entirely depends on the nature of the work and mutual consent between the woman and the organisation.
- Crèche facility: The Maternity Benefit Amendment Act has made it mandatory for every establishment employing 50 or more employees to have a crèche. Women employees can visit the crèche 4 times a day.
- Employee awareness: The Act mandates that every organization should educate women about the maternity benefits available to them, so they can use them when the time comes.
3. What are the monetary benefits available under this act?
If a woman has completed at least 80 days in a company, 12 months prior to her expected date of delivery she is entitled to full paid maternity leave. This will be calculated at the rate of the average daily wage for the period of actual absence from work. Apart from 12 weeks of salary, a female worker is also entitled to a medical bonus of Rs. 3,500.
Although all the above amendments seem pretty good there are still major issues with this act:
1. It is not fair to companies
In most countries, the government shoulders part of the financial responsibility for providing maternity benefits. But in India, except for few employees covered under the Employee State Insurance Act (ESI Act) (i.e. employees earning not more than INR 21,000 per month), maternity benefits have to be financed by the employer solely. This means companies will be apprehensive to recruit women. Thus leading to gender inequality at the work force.
2. Its only for 10% of women belonging to the organized sector
The Act benefits only working women from the organized sector and they make up only 10% of the working women in India. The remaining 90% are all from the unorganized/informal sector that do not get these benefits.
3. It totally ignores a fathers role:
Although the maternity Act has been amended there is still no provision for paternity leave reinstating the notion that only mothers have to take care of the child. TBH this is a pretty backward thought process, KU with the times Government! Despite no formal provision, some companies are voluntarily providing paternity leave as part of their employee benefits. Deutsche Bank, Johnson & Johnson, IKEA, Microsoft are among the few of those companies. While these large organizations can afford to give such benefits, who’s going to help the employees of smaller organizations?