A women becoming the mother fulfills her duties just not for her family but for the society as well. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) (1948) pronounced the special rights of children for the first time by providing that "motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance". The General Assembly in 2003 opined that "early childhood is a crucial period for the sound development of young children. Missed opportunities during these early years cannot be made up at later stages of the child's life." As per the standards set out by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in the Maternity Protection Convention, 2000, member states have been recommended to provide atleast 14 weeks of maternity leave. The Maternity Protection Recommendation, 2000 of the ILO recommends a longer period of 18 weeks for maternity leave.
The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 in India regulates the standard of employment of women in establishments before and after child-birth. In addition to the Maternity Act, certain other labour laws in India also provide for maternity benefits, viz.,
1. The Employees State Insurance Act provides for payment of wages to an insured woman, during her 26 week maternity leave.
2. The Working Journalists (Conditions of Service) and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1955 provides that women employed in newspapers or working as journalists are also entitled to maternity leave of 3 months.
3. The Factories Act, 1948 provides 3 months of maternity leaves with full wages under to female employees working in factories.
As a result of the continuous demand for past few years, to improve maternity benefits being provided to female employees,recently the Maternity Benefit Act has been amended and the provisions are equally applicable in private sectors. Accordingly,
1. Maternity leave for Eligible Employees has been increased to 26 weeks (as against the previous 12 weeks limit) in case of women having less than two surviving children. In other cases, the existing period of 12 weeks shall continue to apply. Out of the 26 weeks, not more than 8 weeks can be taken before the date of expected delivery, whereas earlier, the pre-natal period was prescribed to be not more than 6 weeks.
- Maternity benefit has now been extended to commissioning and adopting mothers. A female employee adopting a child below 3 months of age and commissioning mothers shall be entitled to 12 weeks of maternity benefit from the date the child is handed over to them. The commissioning mother has been defined as biological mother who uses her egg to create an embryo planted in any other woman
- Employers having at least 50 employees will be required to provide creche facility either individually or as a shared common facility within such distance as may be prescribed by rules. The employer shall also be required to allow four visits a day to the creche including the interval for rest allowed to her.
- Employers may allow Eligible Employees to work from home on a case to case basis depending on the nature of work. The conditions governing such work from home may be mutually agreed between the employer and the employee.
- Every employer shall be required to inform, in writing and electronically, to every female employee at the time of commencement of employment about the benefits available to her as per the Maternity Act.
In terms of compliances under the Maternity Benefit Amendment Act, 2017 private employers will now be required to:
- amend their leave policies/ maternity leave policies to reflect the expanded benefits under the 2017 Amendment Act;
- include appropriate references with respect to maternity benefits in their employment offer letter / joining docket providing details of maternity benefits under the law;
- build in systems, processes and policies to allow working mothers to work from home;
- Provide creche facilities for working mothers and develop the infrastructure for the same;
- Devise a non-discriminatory performance appraisal system taking into consideration that the fact that the female employee was on maternity leave for 6 months.
Dr. Rumi Ahmad, JEMTEC School of law, Greater Noida