Industrial Relations – The New Maternity Benefit Bill
The passage of the New Maternity Benefit Bill in the Parliament shows that organizations and the government understand the business case for having more women employees in the workforce.The Bill is an amendment to the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, which protects the employment of women and entitles her to full-paid absence from work to take care for her child.
Key Highlights of the Bill:
- Women working in the organised sector will now be entitled to paid maternity leave of 26 weeks, up from 12 weeks.
- The Bill also provides for maternity leave of 12 weeks to mothers adopting a child below the age of three months as well as to commissioning mothers (defined as a biological mother) who uses her egg to have a surrogate child.
- It also makes it mandatory for every establishment with more than 50 employees to provide creche facilities within a prescribed distance. The woman will be allowed four visits to the creche in a day.
- The new law will apply to all establishments employing 10 or more people and the entitlement will be for only up to first two children. For third child, the entitlement will be for only 12 weeks.
- The Bill has a a provision under which an employer can permit a woman to work from home, if the nature of work assigned permits her to do so. This option can be availed of, after the period of maternity leave, for a duration that is mutually decided by the employer and the woman.
- The amendments would ensure that full maternal care is provided during the full bloom period and will encourage more women to join the workforce in organised sector.
Impact on Industry:
The new bill has evoked mixed responses from the Industry. While some are welcoming its pro-welfare provisions others are questioning its practical consequences. Critics believe that the Bill is likely to open the door for private organizations to adopt discriminatory hiring practices and exclude women based on their age and marital status. Practices such as inquiring about a woman’s marital status or her ability to balance responsibilities at work and home, will be encouraged.
According to some of the Startups and SMEs, while it is a good move in the long run, an expense for a crèche and the cost of six months of maternity leave will have a negative impact on many businesses.
Citizen engagement platform LocalCircles conducted a poll regarding the impact of the Maternity Bill on employment figures among women in SMEs and Startups.
Over 40 percent of those surveyed said they will consider the maternity bill clauses during the hiring process, while 26 percent said that they will prefer hiring male employees instead.
The results showed that 35 percent of participants believed that the bill will be having a negative impact on their ecosystem as it would impact both the cost and the profitability of the business, while 39 percent said that it will have a positive effect on the company as it will lead to a happier workforce.
How some of the big corporate houses fares on this front?
Employers are realising that they need to provide benefits that are attuned to the times. Companies recognise that millennials need policies that are appreciative of their needs, and are being proactive about providing policies that help them in the journey of parenthood.
Several companies in the country are already one step ahead. Not only have many of them upped their maternity leave allowances ahead of Parliament’s nod to the proposal, some have even introduced special initiatives to ease their employees’ entry into parenthood.
Deloitte is readying a programme specifically for young parents under its existing health and wellness support initiative EmoFit. Under this initiative — called ‘Emo-Fit+’ — in addition to other facilities, the company will provide counselling services for new mothers and fathers.
At Mondelez India Foods, specialist doctors are available, and new mothers — including spouses of male colleagues — can avail tele-health consultations in different phases of pregnancy.
Accenture runs a ‘Parents At Work’ programme under which it conducts monthly parenting workshops on topics like preparing for motherhood and fatherhood, preparing for adoption, finding balance, managing financials, and the like.
Technology giant Infosys has doctors on campus for the convenience of expecting mothers.
Ericsson, besides offering creche allowances and progressive maternity, paternity and adoption leave, also sends gift hampers to parents after the birth of a child.
Credit Suisse provides compressed working weeks, job sharing and occasional flexible working options for would-be mothers and those coming back post-maternity leave, to facilitate their return.
Leading IT services companies and BPOs have initiated steps to implement policies compliant with the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill.
India’s third-largest IT exporter Wipro has revised its leave policy with effect from March 28. Women employees are now eligible for 26 weeks of maternity leave. It also extended the benefit to employees who had been on maternity leave till March 28.
Apart from providing paid leave for young mothers and mothers-to-be, IT companies are also reaching out to women employees to keep them engaged with the company.
Mindtree, which introduced 6 months’ paid maternity leave in September, unveiled ‘Mi Lady,’an application,to engage with women who are on maternity leave. Through the app, employees on maternity leave can upgrade their skills before they rejoin.
Though there are some gaps in the bill like it excludes the majority (the informal sector workers), doesn’t mention paternity leave (reinforcing patriarchal norms), limits coverage to two live births, placing the onus of a small family on the woman, and also limits the provision of crèche facility for companies where the number of workers is 50 and above. Still, it goes on a long way in making Indian Industrial space more women friendly. We can surely expect more improvements on Gender Gap front in Indian companies in times to come.