Maternity Benefit Act of 1961: Rights of Working Mothers
In today's competitive world, both genders must strive to maintain a decent standard of living, especially women who often have to balance professional and motherhood responsibilities. Earlier, pregnancy, childbirth, and upbringing of children were the primary reason for the limited contribution of women in the workforce. In order to fuel the participation of women in the workforce, the Maternity Benefit Act, of 1961, was implemented. The Constitution of India empowers the government to fulfil the requirements or aspirations of society; Article 42 of the Indian Constitution states that “The State shall make provision for securing just and humane conditions of work and for maternity relief.” This means that there is a requirement of introducing as well as promoting certain provisions which help in improving and securing the work conditions, particularly for pregnant women. The following sections of the article provide brief information regarding the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961.
Maternity Benefit Act, 1961
The Maternity Benefit (MB) Act of 1961 was introduced to provide benefits to women employees during the time of their maternity and ensures that they receive a salary during their absence from work in order to take care of a newborn child. The main motive of this Act is to reduce or remove the obstacles faced by female employees while entailing the journey of motherhood. It also allows working women to enable work-life balance as well as their choice of having a child. This Act was passed by the Union of India on 12 December 1961 which includes conditional benefits to female employees related to childbirth, complications, and pregnancy. Under this Act, various facilities are provided to female employees in order to overcome the state of motherhood peacefully and honorably without any fear of facing issues in the job due to absence in the pre or postnatal period. According to the MB Act, an employer cannot terminate, fire, or dismiss a pregnant woman on the grounds of her pregnancy. Also, it is against the law to change the terms of her employment as well as to deduct her salary based on light work and breaks for breastfeeding. There are different sections that cover all maternity benefits available in the Act which are further divided into certain categories as discussed below:
Employment and payment-related benefits: Section 4 (Prohibition of women’s employment or work in certain cases), Section 5 (Right to payment), Section 7 (Payment in case of death of women), and Section 8 (Medical bonus payment).
Leave-related benefits: Section 9 (Leave for miscarriage, medical termination of pregnancy, or others) and Section 10 (Illness leave due to pregnancy, tubectomy operation, premature birth of child, miscarriage or medical termination of pregnancy).
Breaks and dismissal-related benefits: Section 11 (Nursing breaks), Section 12 (Dismissal during the absence of pregnancy), Section 13 (Deduction of wages is prohibited in certain cases), and Section 18 (Forfeiture of provided benefits under MB Act).
Provisions and Benefits of the Maternity Benefit Act
Maternity leave duration: According to the Maternity Benefit Act, every woman is entitled to maternity benefits of twelve weeks which cannot be availed before six weeks from the date of expected delivery. After Amendment 2017, this time period was changed to 8 weeks whereas maternity leave was increased to 26 weeks.
Adoptive and Commissioning mothers: Maternity leave of twelve weeks is granted to both adoptive and commissioning mothers, calculated from the date the child is handed over to them. Commissioning mothers are defined as biological mothers who impart their eggs to create an embryo that is further implanted in another woman. Adoptive mothers are those who legally adopt a child below three years of age.
Tubectomy cases: After the tubectomy operation, women can opt for two weeks' leave under the MB Act of 1961. Before opting for this benefit, proper documentation is required to be submitted to the employer.
Leave for Miscarriage: In case of miscarriage or medical termination of the pregnancy, women can opt for six weeks' leave after the production of medical documents.
Post-pregnancy illness: There may be a case where women might suffer from critical illness post-pregnancy; therefore, MB Act allows them to take one month's leave for recovery.
Healthcare Incentive: Under the Maternity Benefit Act of 1961, monetary help is also provided by the Central Government to expecting mothers in which they are given INR 3500. Alongside, under the National Food Security Act of 2013, a minimum of INR 6000 bonus is allowed for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers.
Appointment and power of Inspectors: In order to enforce the MB act, Inspectors (mostly Public Servants) are appointed by the government. An inspector has the ability to perform an inquiry on his own regarding mistreatment towards pregnant women or by complaint given by the employer. If the complaint turns out to be correct, the employer is directed to pay the employee whereas if an employee is not satisfied with the inspector’s decision then he/she can apply for an appeal to the prescribed authority.
This Amendment was introduced by the Minister for Labour and Employment (Mr. Bandaru Dattatreya) in the Rajya Sabha and was coupled with the Ministry of Women and Child Development aiming for maternity benefits for women. After the 259th Law Commission Report, the 2017 Amendment was introduced which stated that maternity benefits should be increased to 180 days and should be made available in the State. Every woman including those who work in the unorganized sector should be provided with all maternity benefits. Moreover, proper guidelines should be introduced highlighting paid maternity leaves provided by employers in the private sector.
New provisions after the 2017 Amendment
Crèche facility: According to the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act of 2017, every establishment to which the Act applies having 50 or more employees must provide crèche facilities to the female employees within a stipulated distance. The employer should allow the female employees to visit the crèche facility four times a day along with the interval of time given to her for rest.
Work from Home Option: Under this Amendment, female employees are permitted to work from home based on the nature and necessity of their work. This option is available even after delivery during the post-delivery period and may be availed by the women employee on mutual agreement with the employer.
Employee awareness: Another provision granted after the Amendment of 2017 was to educate women employees at the time of their appointment regarding maternity benefits. Employment termination if it coincides with the first day of maternity leave will be addressed as termination on the basis of pregnancy which is unjustifiable and illegal.
Maternity leave eligibility
Under the provisions of the Maternity Benefit Act of 1961, the eligibility criterion to avail maternity benefits includes a woman who should have worked in an establishment as an employee for a time period of at least eighty days in the past twelve months. Also, there must be at least 10 workers in an organization or establishment.
Applicability of Maternity Leave Act
The Act is applicable to establishments such as mines, plantations, and factories under Section 2 and Section 3(e) of the Act.
Applicable to all government establishments or organizations.
Organizations where people are employed for the exhibition of acrobatic, equestrian, and other performances.
Applicable to all shops defined under the law including 10 or more employees.
Filing a complaint under MB Act, 1961
A complaint can be filed by a woman with the help of an Inspector designated by the MB Act of 1961. If a pregnant woman is denied maternity or medical benefits or expelled while on maternity leave, she has sixty days to appeal against the decision. In case, she does not agree with the inspector’s decision; therefore, within thirty days she can make a counteroffer to the suggested expert or she can also file a lawsuit within a year for availing of maternity benefits.
The Maternity Benefit Act provides various benefits to working women during their pregnancy period (either pre- or post-pregnancy) and certain provisions were introduced for the same. Apart from various schemes under the Maternity Benefits Act as mentioned above, National Maternity Benefit Scheme now known as Jnani Suraksha Yojana also help pregnant women in availing the maternity benefits. Also, Vande Mataram Scheme, Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana, and Pradhan Surakshit Matritva Abhiyan are some of the programs that guarantee financial assistance to women during their crucial pregnancy time. The Government or employer of an organization should take certain measures to make their women employees aware of these schemes or programs.
1. Is Creche mandatory?
2. How many times has the Maternity Benefit Act been amended?