'They will be a burden': Business groups oppose work benefits for unmarried couples amid debate

Nine small and medium enterprises say they will be burdened if cohabiting couples get same perks as married ones

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 August, 2014, 5:56pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 August, 2014, 9:01pm

Unmarried couples should not enjoy the same staff benefits as married people, as this would burden small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and go against traditional family values, businesses have told the equality watchdog.

The topic is under debate during a public consultation on improving anti-discrimination laws, conducted by the Equal Opportunities Commission.

Nine SME groups, citing financial reasons and moral judgment, voiced opposition yesterday to the idea of employers granting the same medical, housing and other benefits to both married people and de facto couples who lived together.

There were grey areas, they said, pointing to how the government might define couples and whether this would cover both heterosexual and homosexual cohabitation.

“It is difficult to define cohabitation. Does it simply mean two people living together?” said Jimmy Wan Hoi-hung, founding president of Hong Kong Greater China SME Alliance Association.

“We businessmen need to calculate costs. This increases uncertainties.”

What should have been a review of anti-discrimination laws turned into a chorus of complaints that the commission had failed to reach out to small firms and consider their difficulties.

“The retail industry is in a slum, yet the government does little except to keep on proposing new rules that would increase our costs,” Simon Cheung Tsin-wong, chairman of Hong Kong (SME) Economic and Trade Promotional Association, said.

The businesses also said they were prepared to pay for benefits encouraging people to get married, but had reservations about doing the same to support cohabitation.

But a commission spokeswoman said the proposal was intended only to provide protection from discrimination for de facto couples who were “in committed relationships similar to a marriage but [who] do not wish to become married”.

Any such protection would be bound by a clear definition of what constituted that relationship, she added. Hong Kong has yet to draw up a clear definition of a de facto relationship, but under Australian laws, it refers to a pair living together on a genuine domestic basis.

Factors taken into consideration include the duration of the relationship, common residence and degree of financial dependence. Australia initially covered only heterosexual relationships, but added protection for same-sex relationships last year.

The consultation will run until October 7.