The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 regulates employment of women in certain establishments for a certain period before and after childbirth and provides for maternity and other benefits. Such benefits are aimed to protect the dignity of motherhood by providing for the full and healthy maintenance of women and her child when she is not working. The Act is applicable to mines, factories, circus industry, plantations, shops and establishments employing ten or more persons, except employees covered under the Employees’ State Insurance Act, 1948. It can be extended to other establishments by the State Governments.
The Central Industrial Relations Machinery (CIRM) in the Ministry of Labour is responsible for enforcing this Act. CIRM is an attached office of the Ministry and is also known as the Chief Labour Commissioner (Central) [CLC(C)] Organisation. The CIRM is headed by the Chief Labour Commissioner (Central).
The main provisions of the Act are:-
- No employer shall knowingly employ a woman in any establishment during the six weeks immediately following the day of her delivery or her miscarriage. Also, no woman shall work in any establishment during the six weeks immediately following the day of her delivery or her miscarriage.
- Every woman shall be entitled to, and her employer shall be liable for, the payment of maternity benefit at the rate of the average daily wage for the period of her actual absence immediately preceding and including the day of her delivery and for the six weeks immediately following that day. The ‘average daily wage’ means the average of the woman’s wages payable to her for the days on which she has worked during the period of three calendar months immediately preceding the date from which she absents herself on account of maternity, or one rupee a day, whichever is higher.
- No woman shall be entitled to maternity benefit unless she has actually worked in an establishment of the employer from whom she claims maternity benefit, for a period of not less than one hundred and sixty days in the twelve months immediately preceding the date of her expected delivery. For the purpose of calculating the days on which a woman has actually worked in the establishment, the days for which she has been laid off during the period of twelve months immediately preceding the date of her expected delivery shall be taken into account.
- The maximum period for which any woman shall be entitled to maternity benefit shall be twelve weeks, that is to say, six weeks up to and including the day of her delivery and six weeks immediately following that day.
- No deduction from the normal and usual daily wages of a woman entitled to maternity benefit shall be made by reason only of – (i) the nature of work assigned to her by virtue of the provisions of the Act; or (ii) breaks for nursing the child allowed to her under the provisions of the Act.
- If a woman works in any establishment after she has been permitted by her employer to absent herself for any period, during such authorised absence, she shall forfeit her claim to the maternity benefit for such period.
- If any employer contravenes the provisions of this Act or the rules made thereunder, he/ she shall be punishable with imprisonment or with fine or with both; and where the contravention is of any provision regarding maternity benefit or regarding payment of any other amount and such maternity benefit or amount has not already been recovered, the court shall, in addition recover such maternity benefit or amount as if it were a fine and pay the same to the person entitled thereto.