In May 2014, CSR conducted a study, analyzing the effectiveness of the implementation of the Maternity Benefit Act (1961).
The Maternity Benefit Act (MBA) is a law passed in India, in December 1961. It regulates the employment of women in all work establishments (employing 10 or more people), for a certain period before and after childbirth, and provides for maternity benefits. According to MBA, a female employee is entitled to 12 weeks of maternity leave. It is according to the Act unlawful for an employer to discharge or dismiss an employee during or on account of maternity leave.
According to feminist scholars, economic participation is necessary for women’s autonomy and empowerment. Access to salaried employment is especially important in regards to economic participation, as it makes women less economic dependent on male kin and the spouse, and offers women exit options in i.e. cases of domestic violence.
The key objectives of CSR’s study were:
- To overview the maternity legislation in India,
- To find out about the general benefits and disadvantages of maternity benefit programs.
- To ascertain the number of women aware of and availing the Maternity Benefit Act.
- To learn about the attitude of employers towards the Maternity Benefit Act.
- To bring out the difficulties faced by women leaving for or returning after maternity leave.
The sample in this study consisted of 62 randomly selected women employees who work in a variety of establishments- public sector, private sector as well as non-governmental organizations, in all levels and with varied degrees of work experience.
The final data yielded some eye opening findings, some of which are stated below.
- Of all participants, about 73 per cent stated that there maternity policy exists in their organization. (100% in public sector, 70% in private sector, and 44% in NGO sector). This can be explained with the help of the following diagram.
- Many organizations breach the law, in terms of leaves and payment given. Eighty percent per cent are private and 10 per cent are governmental.
- While the MBA states that it is unlawful for an employer to discharge or dismiss an employee during or on account of maternity leave, only 67 per cent of the women we interviewed,work in organizations where it is not possible to dismiss a pregnant woman or a woman on maternity leave.
- The MBA also states that a pregnant woman has the right to Rs 2500 in medical bonus. To truly understand the efficacy of this clause, we first tried to ascertain whether some women are entitled to medical claim from their employer, as in such a situation. In our sample, 23 women stated that their organization provided free medical care and 16 of these women work in the public sector. Of the women who are not entitled to free medical care, 72 per cent stated that they are notentitled to medical bonus while they are pregnant. In fact, only 10 per cent of these women have answered that their employer provides medical bonus. This can be better explained with the following diagram.
- According to the MBA, an employee who returns to duty after delivery shall be allowed two nursing breaks in the course of her daily work until her child attains the age of fifteen months. Only one third of participants in this study answered that nursing breaks are provided during work hours. This situation is constant across the three sectors.
- None of the women, who have ever applied for maternity leave, have filed a complaint for denial of their maternity rights. One reason for this could be that such an option does not exist in the organization. Other reasons for not complaining, are fear of negative repercussions on one’s career, and the long process it entails.
- Only fifty eight per cent of the participants answered were aware of the existence of the law.
- Only 16 per cent of the women stated their employer displayed the law.This holds true for all the three sectors.However, it was also seen that in organizations where the law was displayed, 90% of the women are aware of the law.Thus the display of the MBA has a direct linkage to the awareness regarding MBA, and pushing employers to display the MBA should be our utmost priority.
On the basis of these findings, we came up with a series of important recommendations, to ensure better implementation of the MBA.
- Many organizations do not register their female employees, to avoid giving them the benefits of the MBA. This needs to be monitored more carefully.
- The MBA completely disregards the role of a father in a child’s upbringing. Paternity leave could be an important opportunity for men to nurture their children and support new mothers with the physical and emotional demands relating to childbirth. It should also be noted that the right to paternity leave could be crucial for changes in the relationships and perceptions of parenting roles in the long run.Thus the MBA should include this, to benefit the larger society.
- The law should be amended to increase the number of maternity leave
- Awareness about the law has to be raised.
- There is great need to improve the implementation of the Act with regard to access to medical bonus and nursing breaks.
Despite the fact that the MBA is one of the key documents in our country, it was particularly saddening to note that many women employees are not aware of it. Due to this, the exploitation on the part of employers increases manifold, and has serious disadvantages for the financial and social status of women. Thus, correct implementation of the MBA should be a top priority for all organizations.
Download the Full Report of the Study
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