Maternity Benefit Act – A Vital Industrial Labour Law

Salient Features & New Developments in the Maternity Benefit Act of 1961

Article 42 of the Constitution of India directs the State to make provisions for maternity relief. Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 therefore, aims to secure just and humane conditions of work for women and is a beneficial employment law in India.

Other Indian employment laws, like the Employees State Insurance Act, 1948; Plantation Labour Act, 1951; Factories Act, 1948; etc. have all made provisions similar to those in Maternity Benefit Act, 1961. These labour laws entitle women to maternity benefits, pre and post child birth and in cases of miscarriage. Certainly, this is subject to fulfillment of some pre-conditions.

The Maternity Benefits Act, 1961 applies to any Establishment wherein 10 or more persons are employed. Under the Act, the condition levied is that the female employee should have served the institution for a minimum period of 80 days in 12 months preceding the date of expected delivery. Also, the Act has undergone regular amendments with the recent one being in 2008. According to Notification by the Ministry of Labour and Employment dated 19 December 2011, an amendment has been made to the amount of medical bonus payable to women entitled to maternity benefit, it has increased from Rs 2,500/- to Rs 3, 500/-.

The Act provides for 12 weeks of paid leave as maternity leave and 6 weeks in case of miscarriage or termination of pregnancy. In addition to the provisions for leave and cash benefits, the Act also makes provisions for matters like light work for pregnant women 10 weeks prior to her delivery, nursing breaks during daily work till the child attends age of 15 months, etc.

The Act serves as a protective umbrella as it restricts termination of service of a pregnant woman employee except on grounds of misconduct. Moreover, it imposes punishment for a period of minimum three months or fine extending to Rs. 5000 on the employer, in the event of any failure to provide maternity benefits to female employees.

Apart from employment laws, other means like timely notifications and government orders have also made a contribution to women.

It is apt to mention here that Establishments which are covered under Employees State Insurance Act 1948 shall not be covered under the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961.

The Central Government accepted the Sixth Pay Commission’s suggestions to provide female Central Government employees with a maternity leave for a period of 180 days. In addition to the above, provisions have also been made for paid child care leave, for a period of 2 years.

The above Sixth Pay Commission suggestions are given below:

(a) The existing ceiling of 135 days Maternity Leave provided in Rule 43(1) of Central Civil Services (Leave) Rules, 1972 shall be enhanced to 180 days.

(b) Leave of the kind due and admissible (including commuted leave for a period not exceeding 60 days and leave not due) that can be granted in continuation with Maternity Leave provided in Rule 43(4)(b) shall be increased to 2 years.

(c) Women employees having minor children may be granted Child Care Leave by an authority competent to grant leave, for a maximum period of two years (i.e. 730 days) during their entire service for taking care of upto two children whether for rearing or to look after any of their needs like examination, sickness etc. Child Care Leave shall not be admissible if the child is eighteen years of age or older. During the period of such leave, the women employees shall be paid leave salary equal to the pay drawn immediately before proceeding on leave. It may be availed of in more than one spell. Child Care Leave shall not be debited against the leave account.

The above delineate the latest developments in Maternity Benefit Act.