Paternity leave for working fathers appears to be a step closer to reality after employer and labour representatives on a government panel agreed to make it part of the law. The breakthrough is encouraging news. It creates a more family-friendly work environment and brings Hong Kong in line with countries that introduced such benefits long ago.
However, if paternity leave is designed to encourage men to take better care of their wives and newborn children, a three-day break does not go far enough. Indeed, compared with European standards, the Labour Advisory Board's consensus to grant a three-day leave for new fathers is far from generous. But as described by Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, this is a good start. It is to be hoped that it can be further improved based on the actual experience.
It is good to hear that the board has agreed in principle that the leave will apply not only to babies born in Hong Kong. Unmarried fathers also will not be discriminated against. The arrangements are sensible and suit changing situations in Hong Kong society. How to guard against abuses will be a matter for consideration during the legislative process. It should not be too difficult to deal with the logistics of this.
The initiative to give five paternity-leave days in the civil service last year is said to have benefited more than a thousand employees already. Similar schemes rolled out by some local employers like Hang Seng Bank and the Productivity Council also show limited negative effects. The coming law provides only the minimum requirement. Employers with better resources should be encouraged to do more.
The benefit has been long overdue. Sadly, the labour chief has yet to come up with a firm timetable on when the law can be introduced. Many fathers-to-be will be eager to learn when they can benefit. Given that the leave is supposed to be taken around the time of birth, the longer the wait, the more likely they will miss out. The government and lawmakers should, therefore, work closely together and legislate expeditiously.