Hong Kong paternity leave row is the mother of all catches

Forget the miserly comments of lawmaker Tommy Cheung, the real fight lies with maternity leave and adding four more weeks to the current 10

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 August, 2018, 6:32pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 August, 2018, 10:56am

When it comes to paternity leave, Liberal Party boss Tommy Cheung Yu-yan is one mean and nasty Scrooge. But he is not necessarily wrong about the latest government plan. Officials are hypocrites and labour leaders falling for it are fools.

The government’s proposal is to increase statutory paternity leave from three to five days. Opposing his own party’s stance, Cheung, who represents the catering industry in the legislature, is fighting it tooth and nail. Practically all sides, left and right, yellow ribbon and blue, have castigated him.

Cheung thinks there should be no paternity leave at all. But it’s too late for that, so let’s skip it. His real argument, taken as an independent proposition and judged on its own merit, irrespective of Cheung’s reprehensible motive, is actually right. It makes no real difference to the parents, but will cost their bosses time and money.

When my wife was pregnant in 2000 with our first child, it made all the difference to her health, and probably our son’s, that her bosses at the Oriental Daily News gave her four extra weeks, no questions asked, on top of the statutory 10 weeks, on her doctor’s recommendation.

Mandatory paternity leave a mistake, pro-establishment lawmaker says

And 14 weeks is the minimal leave time recommended by the International Labour Organisation. You see how miserable and miserly Hong Kong’s maternity leaves are. Add to that the lack of child support, preschool care and everything else, and officials complain Hong Kong women are not having children!

That’s where the labour fight should be – add four more weeks of maternity leave to the current 10. But the row over paternity leave is distracting from the real fight. I am sorry, but the reality is that women are still disproportionately the primary childcarers. Until that changes, paternity leave will always be a side issue.

Before 2015, there was no statutory paternity leave. So I took two weeks off my annual holidays. Giving me three or five days would have made no difference in terms of taking care of the child or mother.

You might argue that two extra days are better than nothing. But if it means nothing, it is not better. In fact, it’s worse. The government, with its latest plan, can claim it has already done something for families. Next time labour leaders demand more, for the father, mother or both, it can just tell them off.

Labour asked for peanuts; the government gave them less.