"The Hand That Rocks the Cradle Is the Hand That Rules the World", a poem written almost 150 years back by William Ross Wallace is and will be applicable in the times to come. Motherhood is a paramount force shaping the future of the world and propelling the progress of human civilisation by nurturing the children who are to determine the fate of humanity. From the first step a child takes to the giant strides made in his career, a mother is a decisive force architecting the character of a being. With time the women community has transgressed from being confined to the four walls doing domestic chores to being part of the corporate ecosystem working hand in hand with the male counterparts. The mothers these days are dynamic in their roles and are juggling between being a perfect mother available to the needs of their children on one hand to being a valuable asset to the company on the other.
In order to address the special needs of the working women who are soon expecting, the two houses of the Parliament have passed a landmark Bill called the Maternity Benefit (Amendment)Bill 2016, that seeks to provide paid leaves to the working women, so that they can devote their time and energies wholly to the child during its formative years without the fear of losing their livelihoods. The bill seeks to enhance the provisions provided in the Maternity Benefit Bill 1961 and strives to retain the participation of women workforce in the functioning of the economy and increase their inclusivity.
Provisions Provided in the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill 2016:
Source: ABC News
The bill has increased the duration of paid leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks in which not more than 8 weeks shall precede the expected date of delivery.
The bill states that for the third child, the mother will receive 12 weeks of paid maternity leave. This provision has been made a part of the central legislation, which was earlier a part of the Shops and Establishments Acts under the States ambit.
Adoption leaves of 12 weeks from the date when the child is handed over only when the child is less than 3 months old.
Paid surrogacy leaves of 12 weeks from the date when the child is handed over to the commissioning mother whose eggs are used to create the embryo to be implanted in another woman.
An organisation with more than 50 employees is obligated to provide crèche facilities to women. Earlier, it was stated that the distance of the crèche to be less than a kilometre from the workplace. As of now, it remains unclear whether the crèche facility will be chargeable or provided free of cost by the employer.
The bill permits four visits per day to crèche including the interval of rest. Earlier Maternity bill allowed for only two visits till the child attains the age of 15 months.
The bill further provides the provision of work from home to the mother, if the nature of work permits her to do so. This option can be availed after the end of maternity leave if mutually agreed by the employer and the woman.
Eligibility Criteria for Availing Maternity Benefits:
The bill sets the criteria as a woman who has worked for at least 80 days in the 12 months immediately preceding for expected date of delivery will be eligible to avail the Maternity benefits as stated in the bill. Also, the employer is prohibited to employ a woman for a period of six weeks immediately following her delivery, miscarriage or even medical termination of pregnancy.
Concerns over the Bill:
Some people have pointed out that the increase in the paid maternity leave from 12 to 26 weeks would act as a deterrent in the employment of women in the workspace. As the employer has to pay for the leaves without getting any output, this will act as a strong roadblock in the recruitment of women and will shatter the efforts taken in the direction of inclusivity and gender parity.
As the bill only provides provisions for the women workforce in the organised sector, almost 90% women in the unorganised sector are left behind.
As the number of nuclear families is on a rise, the father has to equally share the responsibility for the rearing and bearing of the child. Thus, many advocates for paid Paternity leaves to help males to be the equal partner along with the mothers in the development of a child.
The Maternity Benefit Bill definitely reflects the intentions of the government to encourage women to work in the corporate space thereby promoting inclusivity. The amendments made in the bill are welcomed by the working women and the activists fighting ferociously for gender parity. But in some aspects, the bill needs reforms to make it all encompassing. A reformative bill on similar lines for the women in the unorganised sector is the need of the hour. Further, as the bill adds financial pressure on the employers, the government can provide some sops for the companies strictly following the mandates of the bill to encourage recruitment of women in the workforce. Also, a provision for paid Paternity leaves will help the male counterparts to actively support the women in the bearing of children.