By: Laxmi Joshi and Aditi Rani
While Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer managed to return to full time work barely two weeks after giving birth to her first child, for most women returning to work post child birth is a big challenge. In fact, maternity and child care is one of the biggest factors for attrition in the women labor force. As per a study conducted by the McKinsey Global Institute, India can boost its GDP by USD 700 billion in 2025 simply by increasing the female workforce participation and advancing gender equality. This can be achieved by providing facilities to incentivise retention of women employees. One such crucial facility is paid maternity leave. Google managed to reduce the attrition of its female employees almost by half when it increased the paid maternity leave to 18 weeks from 12 weeks in 2007.
Recognizing this trend, Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016 (Bill) was introduced in the Indian legislature. The Bills seeks to amend the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 (Principal Act) that currently mandates a paid maternity leave of 12 weeks. The Bill proposes to increase the paid maternity leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks. In addition, it has also introduced a host of amendments in the Principal Act aimed at attracting and retaining women talent in the organizations. These amendments are in line with the international labour standards laid down under Article 3 and Article 4 of the ILO Maternity Protection Convention, 2000 (No. 183)
Following are the key amendments proposed by the Bill:
Enhancement of the Maternity Leave: The Bill proposes to extend the paid maternity leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks for women employees working in any establishment, be it private or public, with 10 or more employees. However, the duration of maternity leave remains unchanged for a mother of two children. Presently, the Principal Act entitles a female employee a paid maternity leave for 12 weeks of which not more than 6 weeks shall precede the date of her expected delivery. The female employee is also entitled to a medical bonus of Rs. 3,500.
Provisions for Surrogacy Leave: The proposed amendments also guarantee 12 weeks of maternity leave to commissioning mothers who use a surrogate to have a child as well as to working women adopting a baby below the age of three months.
Work from Home: The Bill also provides for a provision of work from home post the 26 weeks of the maternity leave for nursing mothers, subject to the job profile. Further, the Bill makes it mandatory for firms with 50 or more employees to have crèche facility as well as permits four visits to crèche during work hours.
Obligation of the Employer: The employer is required to notify (in writing and electronically) every newly appointed woman in the organization of the benefits available under the Principal Act.
The duration of the maternity leave in India has been increased only once in the past, when it was done through the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 1988. Prior to this amendment, a woman employee was entitled to only six weeks’ leave following the day of her delivery. This Bill is thus a long overdue step towards bridging the gender gap and boosting the participation of women employees in the work force. It also seeks to provide the much needed support system to the woman employee allowing her to strike a healthy balance between her professional commitments and motherhood. On the flip side, however, the Bill is applicable only to women employees in the formal organized sectors and leaves out women employed as contractual labourers, farmers, casual workers, et al. As a consequence, the Bill fails to check the gender gap in the unorganized sector that comprises a big chunk of the India’s labour force.
Presently, the upper house (Rajya Sabha) has given its nod to the Bill and is yet to be taken up before the lower house (Lok Sabha).
 Proposed section 3 (ba) defines “commissioning mother” as a biological mother who uses her eggs to create an embryo implanted in any other women.