February 22, 2017: The much-anticipated Maternity Benefits (Amendment) Bill 2016 is finally passed by Lok Sabha and currently, seeking for the authorization of President Mukherjee to turn into a new law. The bill was moved by Minister of Labour and Employment Bandaru Dattatreya in Lower House. Piloting amendments to the old law, Dattatreya said while framing the rules, he would try to ensure that maximum benefits reach the pregnant women.
Dattatreya presented the bill referring it as a humble gift to women from his side. He said, “This is my humble gift to women, a day after the world celebrated the International Women’s Day.”
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This new law will entitle the women with increased maternity leaves and the number of other benefits which are amended in the revised maternity bill 2016.
Key Highlights of the bill
The current Act provides maternity leave up to 12 weeks for all women. The Bill extends this period to 26 weeks. However, a woman with two or more children will be entitled to 12 weeks of maternity leave.
The Bill introduces maternity leave up to 12 weeks for a woman who adopts a child below the age of three months, and for commissioning mothers (The commissioning mother has been defined as one whose egg is used to create an embryo planted in surrogate’s womb). The period of maternity leave will be calculated from the date the child is handed over to the adoptive or commissioning mother
The bill mandates creche facility within the radius of 500 obligatory for every establishment with 50 or more employees or 30 women employees, whichever is less
An employer may permit a woman to work-from-home, if the nature of work assigned permits her to do so. This may be mutually agreed upon by the employer and the woman
The Bill requires an establishment to inform a woman of all benefits that would be available under the Bill, at the time of her appointment. Such information must be given in writing and electronically
Undoubtedly, the bill will deliver immense benefits to the new mothers, but will it carry out the objective of welfare homogeneously to women from all walks of life? Time will test its conviction but for now, let’s put some light on its shady areas.
Undermining The Unorganized Sector?
In 2015, the law commission advocated for the inclusion of women working in unorganized sectors into the Maternity Bill. The motive of this advocacy was the dispersion of maternity benefits to the majority of women. While presenting the bill, Labour minister clarified that only women working in Special Economic Zones (SEZs) would be entitled to all the benefits of this legislation.
One of the prime concerns the bill is facing is its coverage area, as in the quantity of women which will be served under the scheme. It is assumed that just 10 percent of the total women population will be enabled to reap the benefits of maternity bill, as it only covers the women employed in organized sectors. The bill covers women workers employed in establishments with 10 or more employees, and other notified establishments.
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Mr Dattatreya said the government has taken a host of steps for the welfare of unorganized workers. Till now, only two programs namely Janani Suraksha Yojana and Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahayog Yojana have been launched by the successive governments for the welfare of women employed in unorganized sectors.
Till now, only two programs, namely Janani Suraksha Yojana and Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahayog Yojana have been launched by the successive governments for the welfare of women employed in unorganized sectors.
The Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana (IGMSY) was launched to compensate women for the loss of wages and to ensure that a mother can afford rest after a delivery and take care of health requirements of the new-born child. The IGMSY is a cash transfer scheme that provides Rs 6,000 to pregnant and lactating women above the age of 19 years with less than two children
Janani Suraksha Yojana, which promotes childbirth in an institution by providing financial assistance to women below the poverty line, is being implemented under the 2008 Act. In states where there is a low rate of institutional deliveries, the women there are provided with the monetary aid of 2000 rupees, while in states of a high rate of institutional deliveries, women get the monetary aid of 1300 rupees.
If we sum up the cash assistance of both the welfare programs, a mother employed in unorganized sector receives a total amount of 7300-8000 rupees depending upon their location, which is a stark contrast with the women employed in organized sectors receiving full salary on maternity leave.
WHO recommends minimum rest of 24 weeks or six months after delivering a baby for the better development of both mother and child. Now women in organized sectors will be well co-operated financially due the act of maternity bill, but it poses question mark on the survival of women of unorganized sector because their employers are not bind by the law to provide them a regular salary on maternity leave.
Organized Sectors- Disorganized under the roof of wefare?
The survey by NSSO in 2012 claims that only 17% of the total workforce in India is working in the organized sectors. Out of which, more than 55% work on the contractual basis, while just 8% get benefited with the social security schemes like Insurance, Medi-claims, and Maternity leaves for women.
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This upsurge of employment on the contractual basis indicates a shift in the business economy where its key driver is the mushrooming of start-ups in Indian economy. Startup companies run on the financial aids of their investors, to whom, making profits are the ultimate goal of investing. Start-ups work under the financial crunch, hence it’s very difficult for them to provide these benefits to their women employees.
Startup companies run on the financial aids provided by their investors, to whom, making profits are the ultimate goal and condition for investing into start-ups.
If we refer to a statistical data evident on the homepage of Nasscom, ” India has clearly evolved to become the third largest base of technology start-ups in the world. Within one year, the number of start-ups has grown by 40 percent, and this number is expected to cross 4,200 by the end of 2015.”
“Our initial struggles are not just limited to making brand value for ourselves, but also the financial crunch we face everyday. To meet out the smooth functioning of the business, we cut the running costs on basic amenities like electricity and infrastructure. We work from our homes so that we save the expenses on commercial spaces. So providing social security benefits like paying full salary on maternity leaves is a very bad idea for us. We would have to pay the full wages to the employee on maternity leave and again have to provide the same salary to her replacement for the time being. Just to get the work done by a single employee, we will have to pay double the amount,” an employee at the Delhi-based start-up spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“We are not against the rule, but we are not financially ready to serve our employees with these benefits. That is why we’ve started hiring people on the contractual basis, and it is not just us, the whole industry is following this concept,” he added to his remarks.
The responsibility for the rise in the trend of hiring women on contracts totally sits on the shoulder of the government. Its negligence on the part of dividing the expenses of social security benefits with the corporates is the sole reason for the drastically low figure of women employed on the companies’ payroll.
According to a report by ILO (International Labor Organization),
- 58% countries avail maternity benefits from the government’s funds for the social security schemes
- 16% of countries avail maternity benefits from government and company partnership.
- 26% of countries levy this concern on the shoulders of owners of the organisation.
Many of the social activists suggest the implementation of welfare cess so that the contribution of women preparing the future workforce of the nation are not ignored because of fundamental problems in the policy.
Any Corner for Surrogate Mothers?
When the bill was proposed and passed in the Rajya Sabha, the government faced criticism from the opposition as it precinct the amendments conferring to the biological and commissioning mothers only, leaving the scope for the surrogate mothers. This issue demands concern of the government and it is quite upsetting that when our society is becoming progressive enough to accept the model of surrogacy, our legislators are circumventing this change.
Even if the child is born through the surrogacy method, it is evident that the mother goes by the similar course of pregnancy. The surrogate mothers also need proper care and rest after the pregnancy for their better recovery, but unfortunately, neither the bill have provisions nor the government seems to be obliged by this issue.
Even the in the proposed Surrogacy Regulation Bill 2016 which was introduced in Lok Sabha has no consideration for maternity leaves, which is quite disheartening at the humanitarian grounds.
Government’s aloofness on this subject could indicate an adverse impact over the model surrogacy in India.
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Defying the Existence of Paternity?
Another concern is the exclusion of ‘gradual change in the orthodoxical parenting’ from the amended maternity bill. In current times, parenting is not just limited to mothers; the social and economical structures are implying the fathers to become more sensitive and responsible towards the nursing of children.
In the times when the people are more shifting towards the nuclear family structure, the responsibility of a father towards children is corresponding to the mother. The paternity leave is the need of the hour, and therefore it’s equally required as of the maternity. The magnitude could be less, but the responsibilities are proportionate.
The welfare of mother and child is incomplete if the role of a modern father is not appreciated by the government. The inclusion of paternity leaves would’ve rejoiced the parenthood a way better than now.
These were few major issues which were neither heard nor provided their desired place in the amended bill. Apart from them, the plight of single fathers should also be addressed as they are not given required support from the state and society so that they can raise children efficiently.
However, the positive impact of this bill will be upon quantifying the population. The lesser maternity benefits after the second child are surely going to discourage people for expecting their third in a row.
The government needs to keep the pace with transformation and transition occurring in our society and should induce changes in the governance as according to the current scenario. The Maternity benefits bill 2016 may prove worthy and fruitful for 1.8 million working women in organized sectors, but it lags behind to cover the welfare of its binary, as well as the upcoming-prominent sections of the society. It (bill) needs an overhaul; It shouldn’t be just limited to maternity. What we need today is a bill where every aspect of parenthood is incorporated harmoniously and benefited appropriately.
-prepared by Ashish Srivastava of NewsGram Twitter @PhulRetard