The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act 2017 is an amelioration of the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 (“Act”). It was passed in Lok Sabha on March, 09, 2017, then in Rajya Sabha on August 11, 2016 and was acknowledge by the President of India on March 27, 2017. It is effective since April 01, 2017. This Act is a monumental initiative by Government of India to secure the employment rights of women. This maneuver has placed India amongst the league of progressive and developed countries with respect to maternity benefits.

The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act 2017 has increased the duration of paid maternity leave available for female employees in India from 12 weeks to 26 weeks. The following change was introduced after the recommendation of International Labor Organization and World Health Organization. They suggested that 24 weeks of maternity leave is required to maintain the health of the new mother and child with that the child must be exclusively breastfed by the mother for the first 24 weeks for proper growth and immunity development.

Following the amendments, earlier the pregnant women were allowed to take leave only 6 weeks prior to the expected date of delivery but now it has been extended to 8 weeks. However, the leave remains unaltered for women who are expecting after having two children. Those women will be entitled to only 12 weeks of leave, out of which only 6 weeks of leave can be taken prior to the date of expected date of delivery.

This Act also allocates the benefit of 12 weeks of leave to the woman who adopts a child below the age of 3 years. The commissioning mother (a biological mother who uses her eggs to create an embryo implanted in another woman) will be entitled to 12 weeks of maternity leave too from the date the new born is handed over to them.

The Act provides other provisions like ‘Work from Home’, nursing breaks and crèche facility though the ‘Work from Home’ provision can be exercised after mutual agreement between the employee and employer only. Crèche facility has been made mandatory for every establishment with 50 or more employees. The women are also allowed 4 hours of visit a day to the crèche which includes the rest intervals allowed to them.
The Act is a progressive step by the Indian government to ensure uniform maternity benefit all over the country irrespective of the industry a woman is working in. Moreover, the Act makes it compulsory for the establishment to inform women about the maternity benefits available to them at the time of their appointment. This will protect them from termination or dismissal during the pregnancy. The Section 12 of the Act, 1961 advocates that it is unlawful to terminate any woman during pregnancy and doing this will lead to severe punishment and fines.

As seen, the Maternity Benefit Amendment Act is a positive move to ensure job security to women so that she doesn’t worry losing her source of income due to her choice of motherhood. This act will also help in reducing the cases of women dropping out of the labor force due to absence of adequate maternity leave and improve the survival rate of children. However, the amendment has several drawbacks like women working in unorganized sector are not included while almost 80% of the Indian women are employed in it, the Act doesn’t include the establishments with 10 or less than 10 employees and the paid leave of 26 weeks shall be an additional cost for employers which may impact the hiring of female employees and increase in competition.

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