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The gains and pains of Maternity Benefits Act

While women, in general, have hailed an increase in the paid maternity leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks, small and medium-sized companies are not so happy about it, write Stuti Benal, Samridhi Roy & Jigmet Lhamo
maternity-leave

The passage of the Maternity Benefits (Amendment Bill) in the Lok Sabha sparked a lot of reaction from people across sections. The most talked about provision of this Act is the raising of the period of paid maternity leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks, placing among the countries with the highest maternity benefits in the world. The Maternity Benefit Act protects the employment of women during the time of her maternity and entitles her of full paid absence from work.

It is estimated that around 1.8 million women who work in the organised sector will benefit from this amendment.Maternity leave allows the mother to recuperate, bond with her child, provide the requisite care to him and breastfeed him for the recommended six months.

“Maternity leave is very important for the health of the new-born baby because it enables the working woman to exclusively breast-feed her child for six months after birth, which is also recommended by the World Health Organization.

This period also enables the working mother to recuperate herself before she returns to work as well as bond with the child,” says Maneka Gandhi, Union minister for Women and Child development.

The amendment to the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 will be applicable to all establishments employing 10 or more persons.

Various amendments in the Act

The number of Maternity leave is increased from 12 to 26 weeks for the birth of first two children. Third child onwards the leave period will be 12 weeks.

However, the benefit will not be provided before eight weeks from the date of expected delivery. Earlier it was six weeks before delivery.

In case of adoption of a child below the age of three months, the mother will be entitled to maternity benefit for a period of twelve weeks, starting from the day of adoption.

In case of surrogacy, 12 weeks maternity benefit shall be provided to the commissioning mother, the couple wishing to have the child are called commissioning parents.

In case the nature of the work allows the mother to work from home, the employer may allow her to do so after availing the maternity benefit for such period.

Every establishment with 50 or more employees is required to provide crèche facilities within a prescribed distance. The mother should be allowed four visits per day including her interval for rests.

Women at large have hailed the amendments as these provisions will definitely aid new mothers and make things easier for them. “This is a welcome step, when I had my son I was given six months maternity leave with 50 per cent salary as this was the company policy. I took three months leave before the birth of my son and three months after. Now expecting mothers can take six months to be with their child that too with 100 per cent salary which is so much better,” says Mandakini who now works as a teacher.

Even though the well-being of the mother and child is at the heart of the Act, many concerns have been raised about its shortcomings. For starters the Act covers only the organised sector which leaves out the majority of women workforce (90 per cent) who are employed in unorganised sectors. “It would have been good if the Act said something about women like me who do not work in big offices, we also face many problems when we have a newborn child” said Reena who works as a domestic help.

The Bill extends the increased benefit to the first two children only, it may have a negative impact on the growth and development on the third child and biologically speaking a mother needs more care and more time to recover when she has a third child. Moreover, the Bill does not talk about a paternity leave thereby completely sidelining the role of a father in the holistic growth and development of a child.

mother

More leaves: The number of Maternity leave has been increased from 12 to 26 weeks for the birth of first two children

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Concerns have also been raised about the negative impact such generous benefits would have on the job opportunities for women, organisations might shy away from extending high level jobs to women until they bring exceptional competence to the table.

What about the workplace?

Indeed maternity leave is very important for a new mother and the child. It allows the recommended six month breastfeeding, helps the mother to deal with maternity blues and postpartum depression, allows the mother and child to bond and enables the woman to go back to her career without having to worry about if she will have a job or not once she goes back. Even so the new Maternity Benefits Bill has garnered more criticism than praise. Is as a developing economy ready to grant maternity benefits in parity with the developed economies of the world?

In developed countries, the burden of the maternity leave is either borne by the government or shared by the employer and the employee, for example in Germany 65 per cent wages are paid and in Switzerland 80 per cent wages are paid for the duration of the maternity leave. On the other hand, the employer in is expected to bear the full burden of the maternity leave. As such this Bill might do more harm than good.

“It is a big commitment to let an employee take a break for 6 months. The productivity of the employee is greatly lowered after such a gap. Moreover, when an employee leaves for six months, the authorities and responsibilities have to be delegated to various people and if there are multiple employees who want to avail this benefit then the whole system goes haywire, companies might have a big problem with it” says Rakesh(name changed) who is a businessman.

In addition to this direct cost there is an indirect cost too, the work burden of the absent woman employee will have to be borne by other employees. This includes more money being paid to the employees who are working extra as well as working extra hours to make up for the women on leave. The organisation has to consider many direct and hidden costs if it has several women employees who might avail the maternity benefits. The already prevailing mindset is such that women are not promoted to high level posts as it is assumed that she might prioritize her filial role over her professional role, in such an environment where the acceptance of women on high profile posts is still evolving the extended maternity benefits may be more of a hurdle than an advantage. “Since the employer has to pay the salary during the leave period, the amendment might turn out to be counterproductive. An innovative thing to do would be to bring in paternity benefits,” said Sushmita Dev, member of Indian National Congress.

The irony is that whereas on one hand organisations will be less willing to take on women employees, on the other hand more women will be willing to join the workforce because of the added benefits, this will certainly lead to a demand and supply imbalance and wages for women might even fall. Furthermore, in 50 per cent women quit their job between junior and middle level posts before reaching higher positions , a totality of 29 per cent in Asia, this means that numerous women avail their maternity benefits and yet do not resume their jobs. In such a situation paying 100 per cent salary for 26 weeks only to learn that the woman won’t be resuming her job can prove catastrophic to small and new organisations.

Yes, provisions like the facility of crèche near the workplace might help new mothers to stay in their jobs while not being tensed about her newborn yet this might be seen as an added burden on the organisation, in addition the nursing breaks or visit breaks to the child will certainly effect the productivity of women.

Of course women might aggressively pursue their careers in spite motherhood, and if there are benefits at the workplace they will resume their jobs with full fervour but the added benefits of this Bill might still be a consideration when organisations employee women.

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Bill is ready: Minister of State for Labour and Employment Shri Bandaru Dattatreya briefs the media on the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016, in New

One main reason for this is that that the Bill talks only about maternity leave as if child care is the exclusive responsibility of a woman, it is yet another failed opportunity to bring gender equity to workplace. Had the provisions of the Bill provided for a paternity leave or a leave which could be split between both parents then child care would have been the responsibility of both parents and both would have to make same sacrifices for their child. The shared responsibility would have made organisations see both men and women equally in terms of what they invest in their employee when they decide to have a child.

It is quite possible that this popular Act which appears to be a right move in the interest of women may backfire for them.

Men left behind

Make the bed, wake everyone up and make tea, is raising a child only a mother’s duty? In , there is a growing alienation between the people who make the policies and the people for whom the policy is made. To add to alienation, another crisis that looms is the lack of communication between the former and the latter. It takes years and years to form one policy and till the time it is implemented, times have changed to an extent demanding improvements in the original.

People are hailing the government’s move to extend the maternity leave period. However, questions have also been raised as to why no thought is being given to the paternity leave. Right now only 15 days are given to a government employee as per paternity leave. A child requires the care, attention and time of both the parents in order to establish a deep, intimate relationship with them. The mother is generally seen as the primary caregiver of a child. A primary caregiver is defined as the one ‘who assumes the most responsibility in caring for the health and well-being of the child’ and in this era of changing workplace scenarios, ideals of parenthood and an equal commitment to the children, men are also taking up the role of primary caregivers.

No federal policy for maternity leave in the US

The United States is one country that has no federally mandated policy regarding Maternity Benefit. Most of the United States, excluding two states, received a failing grade in providing women and new mothers support entering motherhood, according to a report by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

In the United States, an unpaid maternity leave of 12 weeks is availed by mothers of new-born and newly adopted child under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA). However, the establishment should have 50 or more employees, the mother must have worked for 12 months and have procured at least 1,250 working hours over those 12 months.

In order to make the maternity benefit better many states have expanded these federal regulations and provided more maternity leave benefits.

The District of Columbia, for example, has lowered the eligibility lowering the required number of employees to 10 employees. California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, for instance, have programs that require private-sector employers to pay their employees during maternity leave at partial replacement rates.

The length of Maternity leave extends upto 52 weeks in Canada during which 55 percent of the original wage is paid at 17 weeks. The additional 35 weeks can be taken by either parent. Wages differ in different provinces. In Norway 36 to 46-week maternity leave is provided. Full salary is offered for the short duration and 80 per cent for the longer period.

Maneka Gandhi in 2016 gave a statement that paternity leave would be just a holiday for men. “Paternity leave can be considered only if, once the woman goes back to work after her 26 weeks of leave, we find that men are availing their sick leave for a month to take care of the child. Let me see how many men do that. I will be happy to give it but for a man, it will be just a holiday, he won’t do anything. If men gave me one iota of hope by taking sick leave for child care, then yes, we can think of mooting a proposal for paternity leave,” she said. While the statement might be true for a section of men, it can’t be applicable to all men in general. It doesn’t reflect the divide that exists in the universal notion of fatherhood. This division is a result of the traditional stereotypical role that has been assigned to each gender.

Contrary to Maneka Gandhi’s statement, there are men who take sick leaves to be with their children when they need their parents the most. Prabhat Singh, father of two who works as a project implementation manager, says “ I share equal responsibility with my wife for taking care of our children. On the days when they are unwell and sick I make sure that I am there with them. I also cook meals, dress them when they are going to school, help them with their homework and take them to shopping.”

On the need for increasing the duration of paternity leaves, he says, “It’s very important to be with your child during the first few months. Earlier when the system of joint families was prevalent, the mother used to get help and support from many members of the family, but now we have nuclear families. Therefore, it is crucial for a mother to have a partner who would share the equal responsibility of bringing up a child.”

Singh is not the only one to advocate for raising the period of paternity leaves. There are several other fathers who demand the same.

Sarvesh Kapoor (name changed) who works in a private healthcare company has a child of 11 months. He had been assigned five days for paternity leave. He combined his five privilege leaves and in turn got 10 days to be with his child. “In a normal delivery, a mother gets discharged after 24 hours and it takes 48 hours if the child has been born out of a cesarean operation, Thus by the time the child is discharged, little time remains.” As he works in and his family lives in Chandigarh, he has resorted to using social media tools to be in touch with his child.

While the Indian government still has to cross various hurdles in raising the period of paternity leaves, several private companies have already implemented it. IKEA, a multinational furniture company, even before it has come to has announced six months’ leave for both men and women. Netflix gives unlimited paternity leaves to its employees. HarperCollins has gone one step ahead and granted ‘pawternity’ leaves for employees adopting pets. Joining the likes of Sweden and Germany where parental leave can be shared between parents and of Norway where a 10 week paternity leave is provided, should do its bit for the fathers too.

In spite of all the apprehensions the Maternity Benefits Amendment Bill has become an Act. The provisions of the Bill are quite generous and have been widely welcomed. Indeed there are a few areas where much thought is required but overall it is well begun and hopefully it will not be half done.

At a glance

Country: Serbia

Length of maternity leave: 52 weeks Percentage of wages paid:

100 per cent for 26 weeks,

60 per cent 27-39 weeks,

30 per cent after that

Country: Bulgaria

LOML- 58 weeks PWP- 90 per cent

Country: Sweden

Length of maternity leave: 68 weeks (at least 60 days for each parent with the rest being transferable) Percentage of wages paid: 80 per cent for 390 days, lump sum for 90 days

Length of maternity leave: 68 weeks (at least 60 days for each parent with the rest being transferable) Percentage of wages paid: 80 per cent for 390 days, lump sum for 90 days

• Country: Croatia

Length of maternity leave: 58 weeks, Percentage of wages paid: 100 per cent for 26 weeks, lump sum for 26 weeks

• Country: United Kingdom

Length of maternity leave: 52 weeks, Percentage of wages paid: 90 per cent for 38 weeks, remaining unpaid

• Country: Papua New Guinea Length of maternity leave:

Length of maternity leave: 6 weeks, Percentage of wages paid: 0 per cent (maternity leave is unpaid but can use sick/vacation days to compensate)

Country: The United States

Length of maternity leave: 12 weeks, Percentage of wages paid: 0 per cent

• Country: Swaziland

Length of maternity leave: 12 weeks, Percentage of wages paid: 0 per cent

• Country: Lesotho

Length of maternity leave: 12 weeks, Percentage of wages paid: 0 per cent

• Country: Tunisia

Length of maternity leave: 4 weeks, Percentage of wages paid: 50 per cent for women in agriculture, 67 per cent of women covered by the Labour Code or 100 per cent for civil servants

http://www.tehelka.com/2017/04/the-gains-and-pains-of-maternity-benefits-act/

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Comment (1)

  1. K SHESHU BABU

    The maternity bill is a step in the positive direction. Though there are some lacunae, there ae many important provisions

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