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A level playing field

Almost 56 years after the enactment of the Maternity Benefit Act of 1961, Parliament introduced much-needed amendments to the law in a statutory recognition of the women workforce’s contributions to nation-building. The amendments in the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016 bring about benevolent changes so that a working woman gets time to exclusively breastfeed her child for six months after birth. The amendments take into consideration the plight of many working women who are forced to cut short their careers.

Features of the Bill

The Bill has increased maternity leave available to working women from 12 weeks to 26 weeks for the first two children. This period, according to the government, would enable a working mother to recuperate after childbirth. It further addressed the concerns of commissioning and adopting mothers. However, the increased maternity leave of 26 weeks is only applicable for the first two children. The third child would not enjoy the mother’s presence and the same level of nutrition as the first two siblings. Working women who have more than two children would continue to have a 12-week maternity leave.

Maternity leave of 12 weeks is also available to mothers adopting a child below the age of three months as well as to the commissioning mothers from the date the child is handed over to the adopting mother or the commissioning mother. The Bill defines a ‘commissioning mother’ as a biological mother who uses her egg to create an embryo planted in any other woman.

Establishments with over 50 employees have to provide for crèche facilities for working mothers and the latter would be permitted to make four visits during work hours to care for and feed the child in the crèche.

The Bill also gives provision for the employer to permit a new mother to work from home, if the nature of work assigned is of such nature. Work-from-home conditions and period would be mutually agreed upon by the employer and the mother. Every establishment would be required to communicate — in writing or electronically — the availability of these benefits at the time of a woman’s appointment.

The Maternity Benefit Act of 1961 covers women employees in various sectors, including those working in factories, mines, circuses, plantations and shops or establishments employing 10 or more persons, except the employees who are covered under the Employees’ State Insurance Act, 1948. The amendments are, however, silent on whether these enhanced maternity rights would extend to women engaged in unorganised labour and domestic work.

The amendments are the result of recommendations made in successive sessions of the Indian Labour Conference and requests from the Ministry of Women and Child Development and stakeholders.

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2021 7:08:39 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/a-level-playing-field/article18868376.ece

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