A bill to introduce mandatory paid paternity leave will be drafted and put to lawmakers within months in the hope that it can be passed into law this year, Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said yesterday.
The government will ask lawmakers to make it compulsory for public and private employers to give new fathers three days off on 80 per cent pay - the same benefit workers receive when they are sick and injured. The benefit will apply both to husbands and to unmarried men who can prove they are the fathers of the child.
The announcement of the timescale for the long-debated legislation has been welcomed by the labour sector, but one pro-business lawmaker said the new law would be "scary" for industry.
Speaking at a Legislative Council panel meeting yesterday, Cheung said: "Our goal is to introduce the draft before the summer holidays."
Paternity leave has been a key demand of the labour sector for eight years.
Unionist lawmakers welcomed Cheung's announcement yesterday, but repeated their demand that private-sector workers get five days of paternity leave at full pay, as civil servants do.
Cheung told the meeting that new mothers working in the private sector also received only 80 per cent pay for maternity leave. He said the issue of how many days of leave would be offered could be revisited when the law was on the statute book.
And Liberal Party lawmaker Tommy Cheung Yu-yan accused the government of "blindly" accepting the demands of workers while ignoring requests from employers, such as the call to ease the rules on the importation of overseas workers.
"This is really scary to employers," Cheung said of the government's attitude to employers. "When small- and medium-sized companies see this, how can they invest?"
Cheung said a system was already in place for employers to recruit foreign labour.
Meanwhile, Federation of Trade Unions lawmaker Chan Yuen-han criticised the government for failing to act on another key demand of the labour sector: standard working hours.
Cheung said the department had been "ploughing away silently" on the issue. Two working groups would shortly report to the government committee set up to examine standard working hours legislation.
But Chan urged Cheung to give a report on the committee's progress in July.
"A minister does not plough silently, he realises his promises," Chan said. "There have to be results after ploughing."