Earlier this year, a survey of employers found that those who do not offer paternity leave - a large majority - had no intention of introducing it unless the government legislated to make it compulsory. Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung has indicated this is on the cards next year anyway. But it is good to see that employer representatives on the government's labour advisory board are no longer united against it. Two from the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce and one from the Chinese Manufacturers' Association have changed their stance. As a result, the board looks set to give approval to a law allowing new fathers at least three days off. This would recognise the changing family roles of men and women, in line with other countries that grant paid and unpaid paternity leave.
Estimates of the number of companies that already offer paternity leave range from 30 to 40 per cent. Take out the financial sector, where more employers do offer it, and the figure is lower. The introduction of up to five days' paternity leave in the civil service earlier this year has added pressure on the private sector. The government says a study shows it would cost private employers only 0.02 to 0.04 per cent of their wage bill to grant three to five days' paternity leave.
This is an underestimate, according to Federation of Hong Kong Industries vice-chairman Stanley Lau Chin-ho, one of the hold-outs against statutory paternity leave, who says it will jeopardise small and medium-sized businesses. But he concedes that as more companies offer it, those that cannot afford it could face hiring difficulties and natural elimination.
Granted, every cost added to doing business has to be considered carefully. But the experience of some local employers, such as Hang Seng Bank, and the Productivity Council, has shown that paternity leave has limited ill effects. These should be weighed against the benefits of family friendly workplaces, amid an ageing population and a low birth rate, and a better work-life balance, big issues with many workers.