Gender equality

Ahead of Father’s Day, Hong Kong government proposes to increase paternity leave from three days to five

Legislators on manpower panel describe amendment as ‘conservative’ and ‘lagging behind international standards’

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 June, 2018, 12:50pm
UPDATED : Friday, 15 June, 2018, 10:50pm

A proposal to extend statutory paternity leave in Hong Kong from three days to five was formally put forward by the government on Friday, two days ahead of Father’s Day.

The increment, which was proposed by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor in her maiden policy address last October, will come into effect after lawmakers pass the relevant amendment bill.

The bill was gazetted on Friday and will be introduced into the Legislative Council on June 20.

The amendment will be the first major change since paternity leave was introduced to the Employment Ordinance and came into effect on February 25, 2015.

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Under the current rules, an eligible male employee is entitled to no more than three days of paternity leave for each confinement of his spouse or partner. While on leave, he will be paid 20 per cent less than for normal working days.

To be eligible, the father must have been employed for more than 40 weeks under a continuous contract, working at least 18 hours a week and four weeks a month.

He is also required to notify his employer of his intention to take leave at least three months in advance and of the exact leave dates at least five days in advance. The employer should be given the mother’s name and the expected date of delivery, according to the ordinance.

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Even including the potential two-day increase, the length of paternity leave in Hong Kong is still below international levels.

According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), its 37 member countries provided an average of seven days off for new fathers in 2016, with 13 countries offering fully paid leave. In the European Union, the average length of paternity leave was 1.4 weeks, the OECD data showed.

A Labour Department spokesman said the proposed bill was supported by both the Labour Advisory Board and the Legco Panel on Manpower.

“It would help male employees better discharge their family responsibilities around the time of their children’s birth,” he said.

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However lawmakers on the panel – from both the pro-establishment and pro-democracy blocs – said the government’s proposal was “conservative” and “lagging behind international standards”.

Kwok Wai-keung, chairman of the panel and a representative of the Federation of Trade Unions, said the amendment did not meet the federation’s target of seven days’ fully paid paternity leave, though he recognised the extension as progress.

“Paternity leave is not only doing a favour to male employees but in fact reducing the burden on families as more and more couples in the city with a low birth rate are both working,” Kwok said.

“The government should consider following the Singaporean model to pay the working fathers during their paternity leave in order to incentivise employers to support a longer statutory leave,” he added.

The government often points to the economic and organisational costs instead of thinking from a humane point of view
Shiu Ka-chun, legislator

In Singapore, an eligible male employee can be granted up to S$2,500 (US$1,870) a week for two weeks of government-paid paternity leave.

Federation of Trade Unions lawmaker Jonathan Ho Kai-ming said he would submit an amendment urging the government to further increase paternity leave to seven days. He suggested that a “pilot test” be done with civil servants to gauge the impact of such a change.

“We think the government must review the length of paternity leave in one year’s time and raise the number of days as soon as possible,” Ho said.

Shiu Ka-chun, a pro-democracy legislator on behalf of the social welfare sector, said longer paternity leave would let men spend more time with their partners, which would lower the new mothers’ chances of suffering from emotional disorders.

“The government often points to the economic and organisational costs instead of thinking from a humane point of view,” Shiu said.

An official estimate based on data from 2015 showed that employers in Hong Kong would have to pay HK$84 million (US$10.7 million) more a year if paternity leave was increased to five days and payment during the period remained at 80 per cent of the normal salary.

If male employees were given seven days of fully paid paternity leave, employers would have to foot a larger bill of HK$242 million more per year.

Both Kwok and Shiu expected criticism and debates when the bill was tabled.

“But it’s likely to be passed despite the controversy because we don’t know when the government may be willing to make changes again if we miss this [chance],” Shiu said.

Additional reporting by Sum Lok-kei