Article (August-2017)

Articles

The Maternity Benefit amendments - Justice is done...(?)

Swati Wagh

Designation : -  

Organization : -  Management Consultant, Pune

01-Aug-2017

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Most of the working Indian females are happy because of the amendments in maternity benefit Act passed by the government. It is indeed a generous gesture of the government who took an effort to revise the 55 years old Act. Government's views are generous that the amendments will definitely ensure utmost care to the "would be mother" and encourage more gender diversity in the organized sector.
 
Let's have a look at the key takeaways of the changes:
 
Women working in the organised sector will now be entitled to paid maternity leave of 26 weeks, up from 12 weeks.
  • The amendment act also provides for maternity leave of 12 weeks to mothers adopting a child below the age of three months as well as to commissioning mothers (defined as a biological mother) who uses her egg to have a surrogate child.
  • It also makes it mandatory for every establishment with more than 50 employees to provide creche facilities within a prescribed distance. The woman will be allowed four visits to the creche in a day.
  • The new law will apply to all establishments employing 10 or more people and the entitlement will be for only up to first two children. For third child, the entitlement will be for only 12 weeks.
  • The amendment Act also has a provision under which an employer can permit a woman to work from home, if the nature of work assigned permits her to do so. This option can be availed of, after the period of maternity leave, for a duration that is mutually decided by the employer and the woman.
The Govt. vide circular dated 12.4.17 has recently further clarified about the doubts on amendments, raised in different employer and employee class which are:
 
1. That the act is applicable to all women who are employed in any capacity directly or through any agency i.e. either on contractual or as consultant.
 
2. The enhanced maternity benefit can be extended to women who are already under maternity leave at the time of enforcement of this amendment act.
 
3. Those women employees who had already availed 12 weeks of maternity leave before enforcement of the amendments i.e.1.4.17 and joined, shall not be entitled to avail the extended benefit of 26 week leave.
 
4. The act is equally applicable in organised as well as unorganised sector in respect of mines, plantations, shops, establishments and factories etc.
 
The amendment Act has definitely good provisions which will help new mothers in terms of :
 
1. It will definitely take care of the nursing needs of the mother as WHO has recommended exclusive breastfeeding for the infants up to the age of six months.
 
2. The extended leave will give enough time to new mothers to heal from the maternity pain.
 
3. During first six months there are chances that the child falls ill or there is vaccination almost every month now because of the extended leave new working moms would not have to take casual leaves often for the well being of the infant.
 
4. Due to provision of creche mothers will not have to worry about their child is being taken care properly or not. This is another plus point for those who belong to nuclear families.
 
5. Supports work from home where the nature of work supports for it.
 
6. It will encourage adoptions.
 
7. As this is a full paid leave, it will safeguard the financial independence of the new mom.
 
But we need to have a look at the side of the coin as well. The implementation of the new amendments has to be appropriate as this will be completely linked to the culture of the organization. As the changes are focused on diversity, the organizations might say that we are fine with having lesser number of female employees and may refrain from hiring female staff. Also in this era of startups where investments are high and resources are limited, the period of six months away from work is huge. Secondly most of the employers might see creche and six months' salary as "cost".
 
I feel these changes are an opportunity to break the view of looking towards pregnancy as it is being considered as a career break.
 
However, it would have been more robust if focused on:
 
1. Equal pay and growth opportunities for pregnant women: There should have been a provision that pregnant women would not be neglected during performance appraisals. Their growth would not be hindered or promotions would not be neglected because of this sole reason.
 
2. The Resignations during pregnancy: If the would be mother develops some complications during pregnancy then she should not be asked to resign from work and make it a win- win situation. Legally a pregnant woman cannot be sacked from work but as organizations want to play safe, they might ask pregnant employee to resign voluntarily. To protect and address employer's inconvenience there should have been a provision for such women employees to work from home during this period.
 
3. If a female has to take a career break because of maternity then she should be paid as per market standards and not lower than that : Yes, this provision should have been made as because of  the career break negotiating  while finding new job becomes difficult for most of the women.
 
4. It was a good opportunity to make it parental leave: The Act does not have provision of paternity leave.
 
Ultimately the changed provisions will get converted into the organizational policy which is nothing but its culture and mindset of the employer. If the employer wants to focus on gender diversity then implementation of reforms will be a golden opportunity. Many organizations have stated implementing the provisions with additional women friendly features. I wish most of the Indian organizations would look at these reforms positively and support their female contributors in their life changing event.