Employers relent on law to bring in paternity leave

Change of heart by employer representatives on advisory panel means legislation for 3-day paternity leave likely to go ahead

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 October, 2012, 2:51am

Paternity leave has moved a step closer to becoming law after a U-turn by employers' representatives on the Labour Advisory Board.

Vice-chairman Stanley Lau Chin-ho, from the Federation of Hong Kong Industries, revealed yesterday that the board looked set to give its approval to a law allowing new fathers time off.

But Lau, one of two employer representatives on the government advisory board known to still be opposed to the move, said: "I need to warn that this will harm the survival of small and medium-sized companies."

He added: "It's not that I oppose offering paternity leave, it's just that I don't think it should be legislated. Small and medium-sized companies are unable to comply with this law."

He wants to let firms decide whether or not to offer paternity leave. Time off for new fathers was a rarity until recently but government figures show about 40 per cent of employers now offer it. "If companies choose not to offer this benefit, they will have difficulty recruiting staff and will be eliminated naturally," Lau said.

His one clear ally left on the board is Stanley Hui Hon-chung of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce. They are among the 12-member board's six employer representatives, who are matched by six labour representatives.

At a meeting this month, Ho Sai-chu and Cheung Sing-hung, both honorary life chairmen of the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce, and Chinese Manufacturers' Association of Hong Kong president Irons Sze Wing-wai, changed their stance to support labour representatives' demands for paternity leave.

Dr Kim Mak Kin-wah, vice-chairman of the Employers' Federation of Hong Kong, left the meeting before it ended and it is not clear whether he is for or against the law. He could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Lau said a proposal would be submitted to Legco if more than half the board voted for the law next month. It would still be subject to debate by legislators in a process that may take a year or so.

The government has calculated that giving paternity leave for between three and five days would add 0.02 per cent to 0.04 per cent to total employment costs. That's between HK$114 million and HK$240 million for the whole of Hong Kong.

Lau believes the figures are an underestimate.

Ho said that after he realised how small the costs were, he decided to support the call for paternity leave - provided it was limited to three days.

"It's a good thing to have harmony between bosses and their employees," Ho said.

But he warned that if employees' representatives insisted on five days' leave, he would vote against paternity leave. "I have already taken a step backward. There is no reason for me to take two steps backward," he said.

He also suggested that men should only be entitled to paternity leave after at least 40 weeks at a company, and workers should give employers three months notice before their babies are due.

Employees' representative Ray Lee Tak-ming, general secretary of the Hong Kong and Kowloon Trades Union Council, said that while unions had been pushing for five days leave, he believed a vote for just three days would prove acceptable.

"We need to get this legislated first," Lee said. "It's better to have something than have nothing at all."