In 2017, the Parliament passed the Maternity Benefit Amendment Bill, which has increased the number of paid maternity leaves for working women from 12 weeks to 26 weeks. Though it was considered a great move, some were apprehensive about the impact of the bill on employees and employers. Let’s understand how the maternity amendment bill has been impacting employees and employers and what future impact it will have.
Impact on employees
- Stress-free motherhood: It helps to ensure that women are returning to the workplace more comfortably after the delivery and settling-in of the new born baby at the home front.
- Lower female mortality rate: The bill will ensure a positive impact on the health of the mother and thus, lower the female mortality rates. As new mothers get enough time, they can take good care of themselves and their newborn.
- Flexible working hours: On the basis of the nature of work, women employees will get work from home option after the expiry of 26 weeks’ leave tenure on terms mutually decided with the employer.
Thanks to the Maternity Amendment Bill, there is an increase in the number of women wishing to work. Many of these had been deterred from doing it in the absence of maternity leave benefit. Also, the bill has made a provision for paternity leave policy as well.
Impact on employers
While, on the one hand, the maternity amendment bill encourages women’s participation in the workforce, it has had major impact on employers as well. The bill continues to encourage an increase in the number of women employed in SME and start-up sectors despite the fact that these fields often can’t afford six to nine months of absence of women employees.
It is a harsh reality that the job industry has been male dominated and has developed a patriarchal approach. It means, women of marriageable age or newly married women were not considered for key roles and promotions. As per the report published by the International Labour Organisation in 2016, women’s labour force participation in India dropped from 35% to 25% between 2004-11.
As a result, women who are of marriageable age and not yet married now have good chances of employment and growth.
However it may have a negative impact on a company if their women employees misuse this benefit by being in employment till they conceive, getting the maternity benefits, and not rejoining after that. It can cause major financial blows to such companies who may have to find replacements.
As the bill has made it mandatory to have a creche facility in every establishment where the number of employees is over 50, it will put extra financial pressure on the company who now has to either start a creche facility or tie-up with nearby creche centres.
For those companies which are already offering group health insurance cover, this new bill will put extra pressure on their finances.
The Final Verdict
While the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act is a good move, it is necessary to expand the billing coverage to include unorganised sectors as well. Moreover, the bill should ensure that the burden to provide maternity benefits should not solely be imposed on employers only and it would be good if it is shared by employers, employees, and the government in varying degrees. If exercised properly, the company can attract a talented pool of women employees by offering them exciting benefits. Moreover, even if the company is offering basic coverage of employees’ health insurance, it can expand the gamut of its benefits by making extra provisions for its women employees.
Most importantly, the maternity amendment bill should have an anti-discrimination clause in order to ensure that the recipients of the benefits under the bill are not discriminated on the grounds of sex, pregnancy, family responsibilities in any aspect of employment.
The Scandinavian and Nordic countries have adopted a social insurance model where the burden of giving benefits is not the responsibility of the employer only and these nations also recognise parental and paternity leaves along with maternity leaves. The two important lessons for India from the models in these nations is that parenting not only a woman’s responsibility and therefore, the obligation to support employees with family responsibility should also be shared. In the absence of it, the gender gap is likely to widen.