Maternity as the name suggests is the benefit that every women is entitled to get as a payment which is payable to her by the employer in her actual absence during the course of employment.
Women all across the world have lots of responsibilities and have to go through certain things like pregnancy, childhood, menstruation etc. It may happen that she has to quit her job to take care of other things. Maternity Benefit Laws are thus made to help such women so that they can continue to work and reap the benefits which in turn will create a harmonious environment in the organisation.
The first maternity benefit legislation was made by the State of Bombay in the year 1929. After this several other states made similar laws and soon a need was felt to make a central legislation for women and then ‘Maternity Benefit Act 1961’ came into existence so that divergence between the different Acts can be reduced.
Maternity Benefit Act 2017
The main objective of the Act is regulating the employment of women employees in different establishments for a fixed period and provide maternity and different other benefits. The Act is an initiative taken by the government for the security of the women and in a way encouraging the women to work and to help her in taking care of her child. In 2016 a bill was passed in Rajya Sabha and the bill was passed and the ‘Maternity Benefit Act 2017 came into effect from 1st April 2017 which further proved to be a boon for the mothers.
Applicability of the Act:
The Act is applicable to all the organisations like –factories, mines, and any private or governmental organisation.
Salient Features of the Act:
-The Act applies to all the women who are employed either directly or indirectly (i.e- by a contractor or an agent), or is working in full term employment or in contractual basis.
-Section 12 of the Act makes it unlawful if any employer dismisses any women employer during her pregnancy. In the case of any grave misconduct by the employee he can take the mandatory steps as per the guidelines and policies of the company.
-In the previous Act the period of maternity leave was for 12 weeks but after the amendment the period of the maternity leave is increased from12 weeks to 26 weeks for 2 children however for women having more than 2 children the leave is for 12 weeks only.
-For those women who adopts a child below the age of 3 months the maternity leave is for 12 weeks the date of which shall be counted from the day the child is handed to the women.
-Women may or may not choose to work from home (in private organisations) depending upon the consent of the employer and the nature of the work after the expiry of 26 weeks.
– It is mandatory as per the act for the establishments having more than 50 employees to have crèches within a defined distance. The amended act allows a women- employee to visit the crèches 4 times a day that includes the regular rest intervals.
-Under the Act it is obligatory for the employer to inform the employees the maternity benefit rules and laws in writing at the time of their appointment.
Objectives and need for Maternity Benefit Laws in India
The most foundational purpose of the maternity benefit laws is protecting the dignity of motherhood and Mothers, safeguard her and her child’s health. Motherhood is the most beautiful time in any women’s life and it’s her right to enjoy it and give proper care to her child having no worries related to security of her job.
Further the ratio of working women in the urban sector has increased remarkably and there is a need to make a gender friendly labour market providing a propitious and an encouraging environment and thus it was natural to protect the women in her maternity seeing a large number of female employees.
Maternity Benefit Laws under Indian Constitution
There are several laws under the constitution of India that safeguard and protect the rights of women. Under Article 14 –equality of the sex is stipulated, whereas Article 15 provides for equality in employment, Article 39(a) mandates equal pay for equal work Article 42 stipulates- right to just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief which is a DPSP and under the same under Article 46 it is stated that state should make rules for improvement in employment opportunities and conditions of the working women.
Article 15(3) gives the government the power to make special laws for the women and under which it passed the ‘Maternity benefit Act’.
Apart from this ‘Indian Labour Organisation’ have made certain standards on maternity benefits where the fundamental concern is to provide social and economical security to the women employees and ensure that no risk is posed to her and her child in any way.
The stance of the Indian Judiciary related to the maternity Laws in India
Municipal Corporation of Delhi v. Female Workers: It was held by the court that it is unlawful to impel a women employee to do heavy work during her advanced pregnancy as it can be deleterious for both the foetus and the mother.
Air India v. Nergesh Meerza : Under the termination and retirement policy of Air India Corporation (AIC) one of the mandatory conditions was that – on the first pregnancy the women employee will be terminated which was held to be violative of Article 14,15 and 16 of the Constitution Of India.
Shah vs. Presiding Officer, Labour Court, Coimbatore and others: The question before the court was that whether Sundays are to be included in calculating the maternity benefits of the women. The court held that- In order to enable the woman worker to subsist during this period and to preserve her health, the law makes a provision for maternity benefit so that the woman can play her productive and reproductive roles efficiently.
Indian Government along with Indian Judiciary has always worked for the furtherance of the women and proper analysis of the Maternity Benefit Act and judicial sensitivity toward this notion, it is quite clear that the Act is an appendage for the women. The Act has increased the reliance of the women both towards the organisation they are working for and the government. The act has provided a social and economical palisade for women employees and has created a stable environment for the women so that they can contribute their best for the organisation.
Edited by Ojaswi Gupta
Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje
 Municipal Corporation of Delhi v. Female Workers (2000) SCC 224
 Air India v. Nergesh Meerza (1981) 4 SCC 335
 Shah vs. Presiding Officer, Labour Court, Coimbatore and others (1977) 4 SCC 384.