THE MATERNITY BENEFIT ACT

INTRODUCTION

India which is the second largest country in terms of population is still considered a developing country. One of the major factors that is an obstacle towards development is the inequality in employment that exists between men and women. The social stigma which prevents women from taking up employment and instead providing for their family by staying at home is an obstacle that needs to be removed if the country wishes to progress, develop and move ahead alongside the other developed countries.

OBJECTIVES OF THE ACT

A need had risen for women to be provided with maternity benefits in order to allow the women to be provided with enough time to nurture and care for her child without having to worry about losing her job or financial stability. This is where the Maternity Benefit Act of 1961 played a role. The Act aimed to ensure that every woman employee is well equipped to care for her child without any worries. It aimed at regulating the conditions of women employees during the period of time before, during and after childbirth. They aimed to do this by providing the women employees with many benefits that would instill in them a sense of security in their job. One of their main objectives behind providing these benefits was to prevent the trend of steady decrease in women employees post childbirth from continuing. They wished to encourage women to come back to their jobs even after childbirth.

The main objective of the act is to make everyone aware of how becoming a mother is one of the most amazing natural phenomena and there is a very evident need to protect this phenomenon from being exploited by anyone. In order to do so, childbirth must be given importance in different situations and hence the maternity benefit act aims at making this importance of childbirth well known by providing women with special benefits to protect their interests in their workplace during their pregnancy and by doing so they also aim to protect the dignity of mothers around the country.

SUMMARY OF THE ACT

The Maternity Benefit Act has a large variety of provisions which can be summarized as follows to facilitate a better understanding of the working of the Act:

  • The first and most important provision in this Act is the provision of a maternity leave for a period of 12 weeks. This leave is available to a woman employee from six weeks prior to the expected due date of her delivery.
  • The next provision is made to protect interests of women who have faced a miscarriage. The court prohibits employers from employing any woman during the six weeks following her miscarriage. This provision also applies for pregnant women as well.
  • The next provision which is another important one is the payment of the maternity benefit. The Act stipulates that all women employees are entitled to the payment of a maternity benefit that is at the rate of the average daily wage for her period of absence from work owing to her pregnancy. The Act however also protects interests of the company and makes them liable to pay only if the woman has actually worked in the company for at least 160 days in the 12 months preceding her delivery
  • The next provision deals with the submission of a notice for claiming maternity benefit. The provision also provides that if a woman is not able to give a notice at the time of her pregnancy, then she is allowed to submit as soon as possible after her delivery.
  • The next two provisions are payments of two kinds. The first one entitles a person nominated by the woman employee to receive the maternity benefit in case the employee dies before being able to avail the maternity benefit. The second is a provision to help a woman with her medical expense. It instructs employers to pay rupees twenty-five to the woman if no other form of pre-natal and post-natal care has not been provided by the employer.
  • The next provision provides a woman with a paid leave of six weeks in case of a miscarriage and the same applies if the woman suffers from some illness that arose out of the pregnancy
  • The next provision provided a woman with two breaks a day to nurse her child. This was only allowed until the child attained the age of fifteen months
  • The next provision protects a woman from being unlawfully dismissed from her work during her period of maternity leave.
  • The next provision explains the forfeiture of the maternity benefit and states that if a woman works in the company after she has been granted her maternity leave then she has forfeited her maternity benefits.
  • The next important provision is the punishment for contravening the provisions of this Act. This provision is to ensure that employers provide their employees with the benefits and do not deprive women of what they deserve.

CASE LAWS

In this section 2 cases will be discussed which had relevant effects on the Maternity Benefit Act-

  1. Municipal Corporation of Delhi vs Female Workers and Anr.[1]

In this case the Court discussed the nature of benefits that the Maternity Benefit Act of 1961 had made available to the women employees and the Supreme Court realized the need to protect the rights of the contractual women employees as well. Keeping this in mind the court explicitly stated that the entitlement of maternity leave must be available to permanent, casual and contractual women employees of the establishment

  • Tanuja Tolia vs State of Uttarakhand[2]

This case was a full bench judgement which is likely to be considered as a precedent in all courts of India. The case dealt with the provision of Child Care Leave (CCL) for a contractual employee of an establishment. While making the judgement the Court stated that when a woman seeks to enforce her rights in relation with maternity and child care, it is the right of the child that is actually being enforced. The Court even referred to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which upheld the sanctity of Motherhood and Childhood. The Court observed that the real beneficiary of the CCL was the child and hence not granting it would mean a violation of the child’s rights. Therefore, the Court laid down that even a contractual employee was entitled to a CCL, however, the Court also laid down that this CCL would be given on a pro rata basis in order to protect the interests of the employer and to overcome the practical difficulty that accompanies providing CCL to a contractual employee.

REFERENCES

  1. An Analysis on Maternity Benefit Act, JSA-CS(December 29, 2018), http://jsa-cs.com/image/AN_ANALYSIS_ON_MATERNITY_BENEFIT_ACT.pdf
  2. Sanjoli Verma, Case Study on Maternity Benefit Act 1961:An Analysis, LEGAL BITES(March 20, 2021), https://www.legalbites.in/maternity-benefit-act-1961-analysis/
  3. Shreya Devgan, The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961: Analysis, COUNTER CURRENTS(September 29, 2020), https://countercurrents.org/2020/09/the-maternity-benefit-act-1961-analysis/
  4. Venkata Vara Prasad Janjanam, Maternity Benefit Act 1961- A study on history, scope and amendments in India, RESEARCHGATE (May 10, 2018), https://www.researchgate.net/publication/324910243_Maternity_Benefit_Act_1961-A_study_on_history_scope_and_amendments_in_India
  5. Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, No.53, Acts of Parliament, 1961 (India)
  6. Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017. No.6, Acts of Parliament, 2017 (India)
  7. Municipal Corporation of Delhi vs Female Workers and Anr, (2000) 2 SCR 171
  8. Tanuja Tolia vs State of Uttarakhand, (2020) SCC OnLine Utt 337

[1] 2000 (2) SCR 171

[2]  2020 SCC OnLine Utt 337

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