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Hong Kong economy

Better Hong Kong child care services and maternity benefits in two years, new Women’s Commission chief vows

Newly appointed head wants less red tape for advisory body, which was previously criticised for its ineffectiveness in pushing for real changes

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 January, 2018, 2:53pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 January, 2018, 10:49pm

Providing more land for child care facilities and improving maternity benefits in Hong Kong within two years would be top priorities for the Women’s Commission, its newly appointed chairwoman said on Saturday.

Speaking on a radio programme, Chan Yuen-han said the government should consider setting a minimum standard and designating more land for community child care services.

Chan, a former lawmaker and long-time unionist, was named the head of the advisory body on January 12.

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Women in the city had just up to 10 weeks of maternity leave while being paid four-fifths of their monthly salaries, Chan said, adding that this was far from sufficient.

“Better support in child care and elderly care can enable women in all fields to go back to work confidently,” Chan said. “This untapped female labour force is one of the direct solutions to the lack of manpower in Hong Kong.”

A total of 530,000 women could be brought back into the work force if better social policies and supporting facilities were in place, Chan said.

Despite repeated calls for change, Hong Kong still falls behind the international standard of 14 weeks of maternity leave with two-thirds of previous earnings set by the International Labour ­Organisation.

“[Sufficient] maternity leave is a very minimum and personal thing,” Chan said. “Is our failure to provide it due to the government’s lack of attention, or the business sector’s unwillingness to cooperate? What I’m seeing is that the government lacks the determination to improve policies.”

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As of last December, the labour participation rate was 55 per cent for women and 68 per cent for men, figures from the Census and Statistics Department show.

The Women’s Commission is an advisory body established by the government in 2001 after the city adopted the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Critics, including former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang, have slammed the commission in the past for its ineffectiveness in pushing for real changes, accusing it of being more about “turning up for cocktails and receptions”.

To avoid unnecessary red tape, Chan urged Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, the city’s first female chief executive, to “directly participate” in the commission’s work. This would streamline the bureaucratic process among different departments, she said.