When it comes to maternity leave, Hong Kong is no beacon of progress for the rest of China
Alice Wu says local politicians who oppose the government’s idea to increase paid maternity leave for working mothers are a disgrace, and set us back in our effort to be a truly modern global city
Babies are adorable. But the trouble with them is that their mothers have the audacity to feel entitled to paid leave for having them. Worse, now fathers have the crazy notion of taking days off work, too.
It is no wonder, then, that a study conducted by the Equal Opportunities Commission has found that over half of Hong Kong employers do not want to hire women with children. It has nothing to do with competence. Women who are mothers are just not considered ideal employees.
For those of us who would like to believe that Hong Kong is a progressive and cosmopolitan global city, I’ve got some bad news. We can’t kid ourselves any more – not after the continuous assault on women and parenthood by people like Tommy Cheung Yu-yan. Cheung is not only the chairman of the Liberal Party, but also a lawmaker and a member of the Executive Council, the government’s top policymaking body that is now considering extending paternity and maternity leave.
Hong Kong’s legal allowance for such leave – 10 weeks for mothers and three days for fathers – is a disgrace compared to other advanced economies.
After attending the Asian Family Summit at the University of Hong Kong earlier this month, Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong said the government has been studying whether it could pay part of the costs, thereby subsidising Hong Kong bosses, to extend statutory maternity leave by four weeks. That’s how desperate the government is and how bad we look.
But of course, Cheung’s friends and his party would have none of that. Felix Chung Kwok-pan, politically cut from the same cloth as Cheung, made sure that the government is clear on one thing: “Employers won’t thank the government for the subsidy. We did not ask for it. The extension of maternity leave was only put forward by labour groups. And even if employers are fully subsidised for the cost, we still lose manpower for an extra four weeks.”
Note the degradation Hong Kong employees are subjected to – human lives are trivialised to mere manpower and man-hours. The political party for Hong Kong’s ungrateful Ebenezer Scrooges really does have no shame.
Sadly, it appears there are many more Scrooges among us, and the Liberal Party isn’t all that exceptional. What the Equal Opportunities Commission study revealed is that over half of Hong Kong employers feel it is completely OK to discriminate against women who have children. As long as that is the mainstream sentiment, people like Cheung and Chung are justified in their attack on women and parenthood.
Watch: Women’s Foundation CEO on women in the workplace in Hong Kong
Meanwhile, two mainland Chinese academics recently floated a ludicrous policy suggestion of starting a “reproduction fund” – to which all working adults under the age of 40 would contribute – to pay for allowances aimed at encouraging families to have more children. Those of us who find it hard to understand how a government that has penalised childbirth for decades through its one-child policy can ever consider penalising individuals for the low fertility rate the government itself created in the first place, should realise that Hong Kong isn’t so different.
It is despicable for Hong Kong employers to demean the human need to care for one’s family, and to perpetuate a “motherhood penalty” and openly discriminate on the basis of gender and family status. To have politicians advocate that makes us just as horrible as those north of the Shenzhen River who think it is fine for a state to enforce childbearing policies on its people.
And in this sense, don’t blame “Sinofication” for Hong Kong’s problems – we’re completely capable of ruining ourselves.
Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA