The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill 2016 (MB Bill) to amend the Maternity Benefit Act 1961 (MB Act) was passed by the Lok Sabha (Lower House) on 9 March 2017 and was previously passed by Rajya Sabha (Upper House) on 11 August 2016, but unfortunately did not witness much progress due to washout of the Parliament’s winter session. Subject to Presidential assent, the MB Bill is all set to become a law on and from the date of its publication in the Official Gazette.
The MB Act regulates paid maternity leave entitlement and other related benefits for women employed in factories, mines and shops or commercial establishments employing 10 or more employees, for certain periods prior to and after childbirth and provides for post –partum care facilities amongst other benefits. The amendments to the MB Act, as set out in the MB Bill, were recommended at the 44th session of the Indian Labour Conference held in 2012.
Some of the highlights of the MB Bill are as follows:
- Increased Paid Maternity Leave: The MB Bill seeks to increase the duration of maternity leave available for women employees from the existing 12 weeks to 26 weeks. Earlier, under the MB Act, this benefit could be availed by women for a period extending up to 6 weeks before the expected delivery date and extending up to 6 weeks after the childbirth. This has now been increased by 8 weeks before the expected date of delivery and remaining 18 weeks to be availed post childbirth. For women who are expecting after having 2 children, the duration of paid maternity leave shall continue to be 12 weeks (i.e. 6 weeks pre and 6 weeks post expected date of delivery).
- Maternity leave for adoptive and commissioning mothers: The MB Bill extends certain benefits under the MB Act to adoptive mothers as well. The MB Bill provides that every woman who adopts a child shall be entitled to 12 weeks of maternity leave, from the date of adoption. Earlier, no such benefits were available to adoptive mothers.
- Work from Home option: The MB Bill has also introduced an enabling provision relating to “work from home” for women, which 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. Though not a statutory entitlement, it provides an encouraging tool to employers to adopt flexibility in the way women employees could function without disrupting the much needed care for their ward.
- Crèche facility: The MB Bill makes crèche facility mandatory for every establishment employing 50 or more women. Women employees would be permitted to visit the crèche 4 times during the day. The MB Bill is ambiguous in relation to the period up to which such arrangement could be extended to the concerned woman and it needs to be seen if the Government of India would clarify this position in the rules to be framed pursuant to the MB Bill coming into force.
- Employee awareness: The MB Bill makes it mandatory for employers to educate women about the maternity benefits available to them at the time of their appointment.
The amendment brought in by the MB Bill, as and when it becomes the law, in respect of the duration of paid maternity leave would benefit women by facilitating better opportunities and arrangements allowing them to strike a balance between their professional and personal responsibilities. In our view, this would also help employers in limiting the attrition of women pursuant to childbirth. With the MB Bill set to become the law, it would lead to India achieving the distinction of being the third highest provider of paid maternity leave to women employees in the private sector after Canada (50 weeks) and Norway (44 weeks).
We will provide a further update once the MB Bill receives Presidential assent and is published in the Official Gazette. This development is likely to happen in course of this month according to our sources in the Union Ministry of Labour and Employment.