Maternity Benefit Act in India: Empowering Women in the Workplace

Introduction

Women’s participation in the workforce is crucial for economic growth and gender equality. In India, the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, plays a vital role in ensuring women’s rights and maternity protection. This article delves into the Act’s provisions, challenges faced by employers, alternative laws providing maternity benefits, and its impact on gender equality.

The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, stands as a significant milestone in the realm of Indian labour laws. It addresses the need to protect and empower women in the workplace, especially during and after pregnancy.

Rights for Women Under the Maternity Act

The Act guarantees several rights to women employees. It mandates that no woman can be employed or engaged in any work within six weeks immediately after her delivery, miscarriage, or medical termination of pregnancy. Furthermore, the Act exempts pregnant women from strenuous work during the month before expected delivery and certain periods within the six weeks following delivery.

Maternity benefit, which includes paid leave, is a central component of the Act. To claim maternity benefit, a woman must have worked for a continuous period of 80 days within the 12 months preceding her expected delivery date. The Act extends this benefit to all women working in an establishment, regardless of their contract type.

[Image Sources: Shutterstock]

Maternity Act

Challenges for Employers

While the Act is crucial for women’s welfare, it poses unique challenges for employers in India. The financial burden of paying maternity benefits entirely falls on employers, which can lead to reduced employment of women in establishments. Small and medium enterprises may find it particularly challenging to afford the mandatory leave, as hiring temporary workers to cover maternity leave can also be costly.

Employers also face the risk of women potentially misusing the provisions of the Act by leaving employment immediately after availing maternity benefits. Establishing and maintaining creche facilities can also be a challenge due to quality standards and convenient locations.

Alternative Laws Providing Maternity Benefits

In addition to the Maternity Benefit Act, several other Indian laws contain provisions related to maternity benefits. For example, the Employees State Insurance Act, 1948, provides periodical payments and medical benefits for insured women employees. Similarly, the Mines Act, Factories Act, Plantations Labour Act, and Central Civil Services Rules offer maternity leave and other benefits.

Other alternative laws that provides Maternity Benefits include:

  • Employees State Insurance Act, 1948: Section 46(1)(b) and Section 56(3).
  • Maternity Benefit (Mines And Circus) Rules, 1961.
  • Central Civil Services Rules of 1972.
  • Mines Act, 1952.
  • Factories Act, 1948.
  • Plantations Labour Act, 1951.

Laws applicable

  1. Rights of Women Under the Maternity Act:
  • Section 4 and 5: No work during certain periods, exemption from strenuous work, and dismissal during absence.
  • Section 12: Right to not be dismissed during maternity leave.
  • Section 27: Overriding power of contract.
  • Section 5, 6, and 7: Maternity benefit eligibility and payments.
  • Section 11: Nursing breaks.
  • Section 11A: Crèche facility.
  • Section 8: Medical Bonus.
  1. Challenges for Employers:

No specific section numbers, as this part discusses general challenges faced by employers due to the Act’s provisions.

Cases

Municipal Corporation of Delhi vs. Female Workers (Muster Roll) & Anr: This case held that all women, regardless of their employment status, are entitled to receive maternity benefits from the establishment, ensuring equal treatment in maternity rights.

  1. Shah vs. Presiding Officer Labour Court, Coimbatore, and Ors: This case clarified whether Sundays, being wageless holidays, should be included in the calculation of the maternity benefit period. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of including Sundays in the calculation.

 Mrs. Bharti Gupta vs. Rail India Technical and Economical Services Ltd. (RITES) and Others: This case emphasized the social and benevolent nature of the Maternity Benefit Act, stating that it applies to establishments under the ambit of Part 3 of the Indian Constitution. RITES, being an instrument of the State, was held to be obligated to follow the provisions of the Act.

These cases reflect how Indian courts have interpreted and applied the Maternity Benefit Act to ensure women’s maternity rights and gender equality in the workforce.

Conclusion

The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, and its 2017 Amendment are instrumental in promoting women’s rights and gender equality in India’s workforce. While it empowers women by safeguarding their maternity rights, it also presents unique challenges for employers. The government has taken steps to address these challenges, emphasizing the importance of gender equality and workplace efficiency.

Author: Carol Francis Joseph, A Studet at Christ University, Bengaluru, in case of any queries please contact/write back to us via email to chhavi@khuranaandkhurana.com or at  Khurana & Khurana, Advocates and IP Attorney.

References

  • “Maternity Benefit Act, 1961,” Ministry of Labour and Employment, Government of India.
  • “Women’s Participation in the Labour Force,” World Bank.
  • “Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017,” India Code.
  • “Empowering Women: Maternity Leave Incentive Scheme,” Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India.
  • https://www.acko.com/group-health-insurance/maternity-leave-policy/
  • https://www.ilo.org/global/standards/subjects-covered-by-international-labour-standards/maternity-protection/lang–en/index.htm
  • https://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-9174-all-about-maternity-leave-in-india.html
  • https://blog.ipleaders.in/maternity-benefit-a-legal-obligation-on-the-state/

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