Give Hong Kong workers the benefits they deserve
Opposition by executive councillor Tommy Cheung to more statutory paternity leave is not the way to go in a society moving away from the abuses of the past
Ever since paternity leave was introduced by the Hong Kong government in 2015, there has been agreement on the need to improve the benefit and the only question has been by how much. Credit must go to Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor for taking it further in her last policy address, and although the bill to increase statutory leave from three days to five still falls short of the expectations of unionists, it is nonetheless a positive step forward.
It is therefore puzzling when a member of Lam’s cabinet claims there should be no paternity leave. Referring to calls for more time off, executive councillor and pro-business Liberal Party chairman Tommy Cheung Yu-yan warned such demands would be never-ending. He said workers got by without maternity leave in the past, adding that paternity leave, as with time off for weddings and funerals, should be left to the discretion of bosses instead. “There shouldn’t be even one day of paternity leave,” he said.
Cheung obviously is not afraid of criticism, having also come under fire for suggesting a rate of HK$20 per hour when the statutory minimum wage was first introduced. However, the catering sector representative said his remarks often did not come from his heart, suggesting that he needed to speak for his constituents. While he may win some applause from them, in particular small and medium-sized enterprises, his hardline stance may not be shared by all. Based on birth rates and family sizes nowadays, five days of leave for new fathers should not be too big a burden for businesses.
Questions have been raised as to whether Cheung also breached the collective responsibility rule of the Executive Council. The increase put forward by Lam was endorsed by the council before being tabled to the legislature and, as with other cabinet members, Cheung is required to defend it. As a lawmaker in the cabinet, he also needs to vote for the measure in the Legislative Council. A muted response from Lam’s team may be misunderstood as the government condoning non-compliance.
Labour protection still has a long way to go, but we have long moved away from the days when workers could be arbitrarily abused. Resisting justified labour benefits is hardly the way forward.