Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016 was passed by the Rajya Sabha in August 2016.
Itaims to benefit about 1.8 million women in the organised sector and increase the strength of the working women force in the country
major changes to the law relating to maternity benefits:
extends the period of maternity benefit from 12 weeks to 26 weeks, including protecting their employment during maternity.
This exceeds the International Labour Organisation’s minimum standard of 14 weeks and is a positive development
Women who legally adopt a child below the age of three months or a “commissioning mother” will be entitled to maternity benefit for 12 weeks from the date on which the child is handed over to her.
commissioning mother” is defined as “a biological mother who uses her egg to create an embryo implanted in another woman.”
gives discretion to employers to allow women to work from home after the period of maternity benefit on mutually agreeable conditions, if the “nature of work assigned” to them permits such an arrangement.
requires establishments having 50 or more employees to have a crèche facility, either separately or along with common facilities.
employers should allow the woman to visit the crèche four times a day,
Bill introduces a provision which requires every establishment to intimate a woman at the time of her appointment of the maternity benefits available to her.
Bill does nothing to dismantle the male breadwinner model and continues to reinforce the stereotype about childcare being exclusively a woman’s responsibility. It demeans and discriminates against alternative parenting models.
assumes that only a mother is a parent or primary caregiver, while a father is the provider and an employee bereft of an active responsibility in childcare. It is silent on paternity/parental leave.
It will also render the ‘equal pay for equal work’ guarantee illusory as the “nature of work” assigned to working mothers can always be rationalised as not being the same as their male counterparts.
Bill entitles an adoptive mother to maternity leave of 12 weeks only if she adopts a child below three months of age.
It overlooks the rigorous procedures on declaring a child free for adoption under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, that makes it nearly impossible to adopt a child below three months. The Bill also ignores Section 57(3) of the JJ Act, which enables a “single person” to adopt.
Bill also discriminates against adoptive fathers and transgendered persons who may adopt, as it does not even recognise their right to parental benefits.
Bill also says maternity benefit is available to a woman only if “her egg” was used to create an embryo. This is a demeaning way of sanctioning surrogacy and is fairly unscientific as well. It fails to recognise that either of the parents could be a donor and need not necessarily be the mother. It also sidesteps the controversy surrounding surrogacy involving anonymous donors.
What needs to be done?
The law cannot be blind to the need for recognising parenting responsibilities and protecting children irrespective of the gender identity of their parents.
Ensure genuine equality in employment, protection of maternity, and promotion of childcare, the government should ensure that the Bill extends maternity benefits equally and unconditionally to all women who parent a child and introduce parental leave as well.
Employers should be under an obligation to provide crèche facilities and work-from-home options to all parents and not just to working mothers as childcare is a shared responsibility.
This new legislation will propel India into third place for maternity leave in the world after Norway at 44 weeks and Canada at 50 weeks.
it is also hoped that it will help in increasing the participation of women from the current 24% – way lower the global average of 40% – so they can be at the forefront of India’s march towards prosperity.