Mothers return to fear of dismissal

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 October, 2011, 12:00am


Hong Kong mothers returning from maternity leave often face dismissal or other forms of discrimination even though it is illegal to fire them while they are on leave, women's rights campaigners say.

'Maternity discrimination is very common in Hong Kong,' Association of Feminism chairwoman Sally Choi Wing-sze said. 'When they finish their maternity leave many will be fired. We have a lot of such cases and it's very difficult to complain.'

The activists spoke out after a global study found that the city's employers lag behind those in other places including the mainland in their willingness to hire working mothers.

The survey was compiled by workplace service provider Regus which interviewed 10,000 business people and 5,600 business owners in 85 countries.

It found that only 32 per cent of Hong Kong companies were willing to take on working mothers, lower than the global average of 36 per cent and the mainland's 44 per cent.

Women's Commission chairwoman Sophia Kao Ching-chi said that while women in Hong Kong were stereotyped as caregivers a lot of people thought they should pitch in to help the household finances - a role made harder by maternity discrimination in the workplace.

Mothers also ran into trouble with their bosses when their family responsibilities had an impact on their work.

A female employee's role as a mother might emerge only when she sought leave to take her children to appointments, Kao said. She urged employers to be more family-friendly.

In the Regus survey, 31 per cent of respondents were concerned that mothers returning from maternity leave could not offer the same flexibility and commitment as other employees. A third worried that they might take time off to have another baby and almost a quarter feared their skills might become out of date.

On the bright side, 72 per cent of businesses said they valued mothers as an important part of the employment talent pool.

But Choi said companies would often assign drastically different tasks to a woman returning from maternity leave so that she would make mistakes and give her employers a reason to let her go.

'If she tries to complain they escape from any liability. If she pursues the case it is a very costly process,' she said.

In a recent case, a pregnant 30-year-old woman working in a small trading company was laid off after being told the company was doing badly. A month later the job was re-advertised.

Founder and adviser of Community Business Ltd Shalini Mahtani said she was most concerned that so few directorships were held by women.