Maternity benefits available to women In India

INTRODUCTION

In India, the percentage of women engaged in employment is around 25%. This, in turn, means that 3 out of every 4 women are not employed. In order to protect the rights of women in employment during pregnancy and the child the Indian law makes it mandatory to offer maternity benefits to women. In India the maternity benefits are mostly given under the maternity benefit act, 1961. The maternity benefit act mentions about who are eligible to get the maternity benefits what are all the benefits available to a mother during and after pregnancy, duties of a employer. It entitles women employees to get full pay wages during the absence from work and to take care of her child. The Act is applicable to the establishments employing 10 or more employees. In this blog well discuss about the various maternity benefits available to women and eligibility for a women to get benefits under the maternity benefits act with some case laws. 

IMPORTANCE:
The birth of a child marks a major step in the life of a woman. And, while we need to do whatever we can to make the woman feel at ease, over the years, nothing was being done to provide maternity benefits. It is a known fact that after childbirth women are forced to quit jobs and, as a society, we have considered this to be normal.  

It has been an age-old practice to discourage women to leave their homes and go to work at the earliest signs of pregnancy and the society mostly considered a woman’s job is to take care of the family. A professional career for a woman meant that she was overstepping her bounds and going against the traditions.

But now a days the old age thoughts has been destroyed and women have started to work breaking their barriers, to encourage women and to increase women employment rate government has passed the maternity benefit act. Some of the major advantages women get through maternity benefit are: 

  • Since the woman is not still working, she is in a better position to look after the well-being of her baby and herself.
  • The main thing is how paid maternity leave relieves any financial strain that might otherwise cause problems. There are several costs associated with being pregnant, including healthcare for the mother for nine months and the newborn after that.
  • Low-wage workers and single mothers benefit greatly from paid maternity leaves.
  • Women can recover more rapidly,  and go back to work if they take the required time off.

WHO ARE ENTITLED TO PROVIDE BENEFITS?
Every company which has more than 10 employees comes under this rule and are supposed to provide maternity benefits to pregnant working women.

The Act applies, to

  1. every establishment being a factory, mine or plantation including any such establishment belonging to Government and to every establishment wherein persons are employed for the exhibition of equestrian, acrobatic and other performances.

every shop or establishment within the meaning of any law for the time being in force in employees, on any day of the preceding 12 months.

WHO ARE ELIGIBLE TO GET THE BENEFITS?
Under the maternity benefits act,2017, for availing the benefits a woman  must have been working as an employee in the organisation for at least 80 days in the past 12 months. And she must have completed the indicated 80-day term within the past 12 months or else she might not be able to get the benefits under the act. She can avail the benefits only for the first two children.

ELIGIBLE TO STUDENTS OR NOT?
Students are not eligible to get the benefits under the act because its applicable only to employees and not for students but the Indian judiciary has come forward in helping the studying pregnant woman, in the case of VANDANA KANDARI v UNIVERSITY OF DELHI, it was held by delhi high court that strict attendance requirement should to relaxed to pregnant candidate and new mothers.

MATERNITY BENEFITS AVAILABLE IN INDIA:

DURATION OF MATERNITY LEAVE:
According to the maternity benefit act, the pregnant working woman is entitled to get 26 weeks paid leave. The lady can utilize the leave on her choice either before maternity or after maternity.

BENEFITS FOR ADOPTIVE AND COMMISSIONING MOTHER:
The maternity benefit act provides 12 weeks of maternity leave to a woman who legally adopts a child below 3 months and for a commissioning mother whos been defined as a biological mother of the child. The 12 weeks period is calculated from the date the child is handed over to the adoptive or commissioning mother.

OPTION TO WORK FROM HOME:

The maternity benefit act provides work from home options for pregnant women depending upon the nature of the work to be done. This is done by a mutual agreement between the woman and employer.

CRECHE FACILITY:
The maternity benefit act provides crèche facility for the working woman in the company. The mother should be allowed 4 times a day to crèche, including her rest time.

INFORMING WOMEN EMPLOYEES OF THE RIGHT TO MATERNITY LEAVE:
According to the maternity act the woman should be stated about the maternity benefits available to them during the appointment. Every female in the organisation should be informed through written, electronic or digital mode.

LEAVE FOR MISCARRIAGE:
According to the maternity benefit act after a miscarriage or medical termination of pregnancy, a woman shall be given a 6 weeks maternity benefit on the production of medical documents.

LEAVE WITH WAGES FOR TUBECTOMY:
According to the maternity benefit act after producing proper documents of the tubectomy the woman is entitled to get 2 weeks maternity benefit immediately after the operation.

PROHIBITION OF DISMISSAL DURING PREGNANCY:
According to the maternity benefit act it is unlawful to dismiss or discharge a woman employee who is absent from work in accordance with provisions of this Act. If the employer has dismissed or discharged the employee, he will have to pay her maternity benefit or bonus as specified in the Act. If this is not complied with, then the aggrieved woman can appeal to the authorities.

IN CASE OF DEATH:
If the woman does during this period of 12 weeks, the maternity benefit shall be payable only for the days up to and including the day of her death. Where the woman delivers a child, then dies during her delivery or during the period immediately following the date of her delivery for which she is entitled for the maternity benefit, leaving behind the child, the employer shall be liable for payment of maternity benefit for that entire period. If the child also dies during the said period, the employer shall be liable for the payment of maternity benefit for the days up to and including the date of the death of the child.

SUGGESTIONS:
The provisions should be given gender equality i.e, its only in favour of the mother the child during the initial days should get the warmth from both father and mother so some provisions regarding father of a child should also be added.
In many foreign countries the maternity benefits payable to the women are shared by both the government and the employer but in India it is only payable by the employer. It’s an added burden to the employer and indirectly employers restrict themselves from employing women.

CASE LAWS:

IN RASITHA CS V STATE OF KERALA:
She  was appointed as a lecturer in medical microbiology & medical biochemistry on contract basis at the calicut university from 17/07/2008. She has reengaged every year from time to time for a decade.

The issue in this case is regarding claim for maternity benefits. The claim was denied by the university stating the terms of the agreement. That the party of 1st part will not be entitled to any claim for future appointment in the university service whether permanent or temporary.

The learned counsel of the university submitted that the petitioner being a contract employee, can at best claim only 15 days casual leave during the period of one year and also permitted to abstain from duty on account of medical conditions of maternity.

It was held that a woman employee cannot be refused maternity benefits only because her employment status is contractual. Regardless of contract agreement, the University is directed to pay the maternity benefits due to the petitioner as applicable in the case of other employees of the university, within two months.

CONCLUSION:
The maternity benefit act is a welcome move towards the women to exercise their right to carry profession guaranteed under the constitution of india. The Maternity Benefit Act of 1961 limited the amount of maternity leave that female employees may take to 12 weeks. However, the length was extended to 26 weeks by the Maternity Benefits Act of 2017. The act has the following drawbacks, it doesn’t give protection for women working in the unorganised sector. As mentioned in the suggestions the act does not have any provisions relating to men, this shows a gender based inequality. For proper care and protection of a child, the child needs both the parents to be with it. Hence new provisions regarding paternity benefit  should be added to not only provide equality but it is most needed for the child. Further the government should atleast give 50 % of the maternity benefit  or atleast contribute a part from the government fund.