In this modern world, both men and women are equally qualified and the competition between them is also developing gradually. Women empowerment is the fast-developing concept and now there is no field that women cannot work or achieve. Besides the pressure from the outer world, women have some inherent difficulties which cannot be avoided. The inherent difficulties are the burden from family responsibilities i.e. every married women who have children are forced to face a hectic phase in their work-life during and after their pregnancy. The maternity period of a woman may also lead to loss of opportunity in her career and she also tends to face no-salary period due to her absence from work. To get rid of these drawbacks of maternity phase of women, Parliament enacted the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961.
Purpose of enacting Maternity Benefit Act, 1961:
Pregnancy is one of the most indispensable phases of life for a woman and it should not be a hindrance for their growth. On the other hand, every child needs his mother to have a healthy childhood and we can’t the fact that mothers’ love is one of the important ingredients in the growth of children. Therefore both career development and children growth should be balanced without disturbing each other’s borderline. Besides the above factors, physical and mental health of mother (working woman) must also be taken into consideration while discussing this concept. Hence Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 was enacted to facilitate maternity leave for pregnant women with full wages which has been paid to her by her employer.
Significance of Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 (as amended in 2017):
According to this Act, a woman who is working in an establishment which has been employing 10 or more than 10 employees can claim maternity benefits from her employers for the birth of her first two living children. The woman who is claiming maternity benefits from her employer must have worked for atleast 80 days in that particular establishment in the preceding 12 months. The duration of maternity benefits can be availed upto 26 weeks[i] (as per amended Act) in which she can also part the duration – 8 weeks before delivery of child and remaining period for post-childbirth. If the woman gets pregnant for a third child, she can avail maternity leave upto 12 weeks and it can also be parted – 6 weeks before delivery and 6 weeks post-delivery. The same benefit of 12 weeks is available to adopting or commissioning mother who adopts a child below the age of three months.
After the completion of 26 weeks of maternity leave, if possible the employer should provide the facility to work from home[ii]. But this facility completely depends on the nature and type of work for which is engaged to do. The employers must inform the female employees about the maternity benefits available to them under this Act at the time of their appointment[iii]. The amendment made in 2017 in Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 has made it mandatory for the employers who are employing more than 50 employees to provide crèche facility[iv] in the establishment and that should be provided within 50 meters distance from the working place of mothers. The employers should also allow them to visit the crèche for 4 times a day at maximum.
Though the Act is extremely useful for women, it increases the burden on part of employers since they are loaded with responsibilities to provide full payment of wages along with leave. The crèche facilities which are to be made will involve expenses and this may not be easy for the employers who are doing small scale business or doing business in a small area. If the burden is partially borne by Government, then it would not be a huge burden for employers but for now Government has not taken any such responsibility which means that employers have to bear entire load. Apart from the above drawbacks, this Act has played a vital role in the career of women by providing them with a stress-free phase during their pregnancy. Through these kinds of woman-centered Act, the productivity of women in employment will be increased in appreciable rate and employment drop-out rate of women will be decreased.
“The views of the authors are personal“
[i] Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017, S 5(3).
[ii] Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017, S 5(5).
[iii] Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017, S 11A(2).
[iv] Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017, S 11A(1).
Ministry of Law and Justice, Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017, https://labour.gov.in/sites/default/files/Maternity%20Benefit%20Amendment%20Act%2C2017%20.pdf (Last visited – Mar.3, 2020, 11.20 PM).