Maternity benefit consists of periodical cash payments in case of confinement or miscarriage or sickness arising out of pregnancy, confinement, premature birth of child or miscarriage, to an insured woman as certified by a duly appointed medical officer or mid wife.
Over the decades, factors like education, economic development and others have contributed to the progress of the society by positively changing its attitude. Owing to this, women today have become more independent and liberal than their counterparts of earlier times. It has also led to an increase in the female work force. This is true for both the organized and the unorganized sector. Under our Constitutional edifice, multiple rights and benefits are guaranteed to women. Article 42 of the Constitution of India also directs the State to make provisions for maternity relief besides securing just and humane conditions of work for women.
The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961
The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 is the prime legislative enactment in this regards. Other legislation like the Employees State Insurance Act, 1948; Plantation Labour Act, 1951; Factories Act, 1948; etc. have made provisions similarly. These Acts entitles women to maternity benefits, pre and post child birth and in cases of miscarriage. Certainly, this is subject to fulfillment of some pre conditions.
Under the Maternity Benefits Act, 1961 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. Here, the minimum medical bonus in case of inability of employer to provide free medical care to pregnant women employee was raised to Rs.1000 extending to Rs. 20000.
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 the legislative enactments, other means like timely notifications and government orders have also made a contribution in dignifying motherhood. 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 this, provisions have also been made for paid child care leave for a period of 2 years. However, these provisions are applicable only in case of their first two surviving children.
All these measures are apparently unique in dignifying motherhood and it leaves us only to think if anything more than this could be desired..