The newly drafted Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017, provisioning for creches is a masterstroke, benefitting kids, mothers, and, yes, fathers too. With effect from July 1, employers having 50 or more employees will be required to provide creche facility, either individual or shared, within the distance as may be prescribed by applicable rules. Women employees would also be permitted to visit the creche four times during the day. If implemented in the right spirit, the amended provisions shall not only prevent new mothers from dropping out of workforce post delivery, but will also curb disturbing issues such as child abuse to a large extent.
Till now, it was only the Factories Act, 1948, and the Building and other Construction Workers’ (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996, which required respective organisations to have creche facilities. According to the said statute, suitable rooms for use by the employees’ children are to be provided and maintained by their employers. Such rooms are required to have adequate accommodation, light, ventilation, clean and sanitary conditions, and be under the charge of trained women.
Though stipulation of creches under the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act is commendable, issue often crops up when it comes to its enforcement. For instance, Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, states that every woman returning to work post delivery should be allowed two breaks in the course of her day to nurse her newborn until s/he turns 15 months old. However, these breaks mostly remain unexecuted due to practical issues. Promulgating legislations is important, but that cannot be an end in itself. Poor compliance with labour law jeopardises both the employer’s working as well as the employee’s well being. Indian labour laws are so numerous, complex and even ambiguous that they promote litigation and Inspector Raj instead of resolving problems related to industrial relations.
Execution authorities and industries have a great responsibility in ensuring application of provisions. It is strongly required that information about these provisions be spread across the country, even to the remotest parts, through print, electronic media etc. Directions are required to be issued to labour authorities for ensuring implementation, including directions for uploading information about compliance on websites.
Further, unorganised sector workers such as agriculturists, independently employed women, vendors etc, too, deserve a better deal. Social security laws will lose their validity if overwhelming majority of such people do not derive any benefit from them. Most importantly, provisions should not leave grey areas with respect to coverage of casual, temporary, contract labours, daily wagers etc. It’s important to have a comprehensive law that provides protection for such categories of workers as well. Though of course, it’s impractical to have separate laws for each employment, as this will only result in endless multiplication of laws. Thousands of crores lying in the coffers of statutory authorities as Provident Fund, Labour Welfare Fund, ESI, cess, too, need to be considered for appropriate utilisation.
This amendment in the Maternity Benefit Act with respect to creches, provisions of the Companies Act, 2013—which mandates every listed company or every public company, having a paid-up share capital of `100 crore or more or a turnover of `300 crore or more, to appoint at least one woman director in its board of directors—and other such developments are surely leading us towards a better India. As we know, no country can reach its full economic potential and achieve worldwide prosperity unless all its citizens get equal opportunities.
Advocate, Supreme Court of India