Time to give time off for new dads

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 July, 2012, 12:00am


The maxim that the market leads and the government facilitates has served Hong Kong well, but not always. It did not bring the five-day working week, which spread after the government took the initiative in the civil service, followed by the banks. And it did not bring us the minimum wage, which the government legislated for after employers generally spurned voluntary minimum wage agreements for the lowest paid in our community. Compared with those two basic examples of workers' entitlements, paternity leave sounds a touch utopian. So it should come as no surprise that, according to a private manpower survey, most employers have no intention of introducing leave for new fathers unless the government makes it compulsory, which may soon be the case.

The survey covered 502 companies in various sectors. Seventy per cent did not offer paternity leave. Take out the banking sector, where more companies do offer it, and the figure is higher. In other places that also do not have compulsory paternity leave, more than 50 per cent of fathers are entitled to it under their employment conditions anyway.

As it happens, Labour and Welfare Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung has affirmed that statutory paternity leave of three to five days could be introduced next year. Again, the civil service has taken the lead, awarding five working days - or a week - of paternity leave last April. The government says a study shows it would cost private employers only 0.02 to 0.04 per cent of their wages bill.

Given that competitiveness is the city's life blood, every cost added to doing business has to be weighed carefully. But in this case it has to be weighed against an ageing population and a low birth rate. Time off for a new dad may not count for much against other disincentives to having a family, such as housing and education costs. But at least it is family friendly, which is not a bad thing for our competitiveness in attracting and keeping talent. And it contributes to a better work-life balance, shown by surveys to be a big issue with many workers.