If you are a new parent in Sweden you will enjoy more than a year of parental leave. If you live in the United Kingdom you and your spouse are entitled to 50 weeks’ leave. But in Hong Kong new mothers get 10 weeks’ leave and fathers a mere three days. And there is little chance this will change, with the Labour Department indicating it has no plans to review the city’s policy. Parental leave provisions for Hong Kong families were highlighted this month when banking giant HSBC rolled out its revamped maternity and paternity leave provisions, bringing it in line with international standards. From May 1, the bank began offering new mothers an increase in paid maternity leave from 12 weeks to 14 weeks. Paternity leave was extended from one week to two weeks. The leave provisions are notably more generous than the statutory requirements mandated by Hong Kong’s Labour Department, where employers are only required to provide up to 10 weeks paid maternity leave and three days of paternity leave at four-fifths of the employee’s salary. There have been repeated calls for Hong Kong’s maternity leave laws to be brought into line with the 14-week standard pegged by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The ILO’s report, “Maternity and Paternity at work, Law and practice across the world” said 74 countries, or 45 per cent, of the 167 studied, provided cash benefits of at least two-thirds of earnings for at least 14 weeks. “Thirty-seven per cent [61 countries] go beyond this standard by providing 100 per cent of previous earnings for at least 14 weeks,” the report said. [Improving labour welfare] is a positive measure as turnover rates would be lower Alice Mak, lawmaker “In the Asia region, about one-quarter of the 26 countries and territories meet the [international] standard, with the average duration standing at 12.7 weeks.” A United Nations report on discrimination against women in 2014 also recommended Hong Kong raise its maternity leave to 14 weeks. Lawmaker Alice Mak Mei-kuen, from the Federation of Trade Unions, said local employers should give mothers 14 weeks of maternity leave, as was the case in Japan. She said improving labour welfare would be beneficial to a company. “It is a positive measure as the company’s turnover rate would be lower. [The business environment] should not be a reason to exploit labour welfare.” Furthermore, she said the policy of paying mothers four-fifths of their wages during maternity leave should be scrapped. “It is unfair to employees. There should be full pay to mothers,” she said. Lisa Moore, of The Women’s Foundation – which has been lobbying to have Hong Kong’s maternity leave provision extended from its current rate – said considerable resistance came from small and medium-sized enterprises when the city amended parental leave policies to give new fathers’ three days’ leave last year. “There was real push back from a lot of SMEs [against the three-day paternity leave] because they thought it would adversely affect their bottom line,” she said. “A lot of this [push back] has to do with smaller local companies which have traditional mindsets, and because Hong Kong has less flexible workplace attitudes.” Speaking at the time of the HSBC announcement, Family Council chairman Professor Daniel Shek Tan-lei said many SMEs in Hong Kong were concerned about parental leave provisions having a negative impact on productivity. Will your boss give you year-long paid maternity leave? This company will ... However, Shek said international studies had shown that a company’s productivity could be enhanced after implementing family-friendly policies. While he welcomed HSBC’s move, he said whether firms should extend maternity leave beyond the 10-week statutory requirement depended on the capacity of individual companies. “The existing provisions on maternity leave under the Employment Ordinance have accorded suitable protection to pregnant employees and have struck a reasonable balance between the interests of employers and employees,” a Labour Department spokesman said. “In assessing the duration of maternity leave for pregnant employees, we have to take into consideration Hong Kong’s economic development and whether there is consensus in the community on the subject.” Moore attributed the low satisfaction level of Hong Kong’s population in part to toxic attitudes towards work/life balance channelled in its maternity leave policies. “Hong Kong’s low satisfaction levels comes from the intense pressure feeling the need to work very long hours, and not taking the time with family or create a bond with kids,” she said. Additional reporting Elizabeth Cheung Here’s how Hong Kong stacks up compared with others: China In 2012, the mainland increased maternity leave by eight days, up to 98 – just in line with international standards. Legislation released by the State Council that year stipulated a new mother would be due 100 per cent of her salary through the course of maternity leave, assuming she had maternity insurance, which is paid by the social security bureau where she is registered. When it comes to offering full wages to new mothers, China is at the forefront of the global trend, as shown by data accumulated by the International Labour Organisation. Paternity leave differs from municipality to municipality, with no national standard set as yet. The number of days off granted to new fathers across China ranges from zero to 30 days. Singapore The Lion State’s maternity provisions put those of the fragrant harbour to shame, offering 16 weeks’ maternity leave at 100 per cent of previous earnings for the first and second child. Liability is divided equally between the employer and public funds. Singapore introduced one-week paternity leave in 2013, financed by public funds at 100 per cent of previous earnings. Only married fathers with Singaporean citizenship are due this entitlement. Sweden With Nordic countries often cited as the gold standard of maternity leave, Sweden offers new parents 480 days leave per child, to be shared between mother and father in a move that fosters gender-equal child rearing. Single parents can take the full 480 days. Eighty per cent of parents’ salaries are paid for through government funded social insurance for 420 days. Those on low wages or without work are due minimum compensation. Sweden was the first country to grant men and women equal access to paid parental leave in 1975, and, with Norway, has adopted a non-transferable month-off policy – the “daddy quota” – to encourage men taking on an active child-rearing role. United Kingdom Following a worldwide push to better facilitate fathers taking active parenting roles, the UK adopted a policy in 2015 that enables parents to share up to 50 weeks’ leave between them, of which 37 is paid by a combination of public funds and employer liability. The new model offers parents flexibility such that mothers can cut short their maternity leave in exchange for time off for their partner, and also extends to same-sex couples. This flexibility means also that new parents do not have to take their leave all in one go. Paid paternity leave remains as two weeks. There has been opposition, particularly from smaller firms struggling to manage the complexities of the new arrangement. Australia Parental leave (shared between mother and father) is at 52 weeks, of which 18 weeks’ worth is paid to the primary caregiver – usually the mother. The secondary caregiver, usually the father, is eligible for two weeks of leave, both at a rate that is pegged to their pay, capped at A$150,000 (HK$857,000), or the national minimum wage. Funded by the government, the scheme has met with criticism for its generosity. Japan Japanese women are entitled to 98 days (14 weeks) maternity leave – the recommended minimum by international standards. Meanwhile Japanese men have one of the most generous provisions of paternity in the world at 52 weeks, but less than 2 per cent take it, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Earlier this year, Kensuke Miyazaki became the first Japanese MP to take paternity leave. New Zealand Women can take up to 18 weeks’ leave as of April, but left-wing campaigners say it should be raised to 26 weeks. New mothers can also transfer part or all of their leave to their partner or spouse. Without this, a partner or spouse can only take up to two weeks’ paternity leave depending on how long he or she has been employed by a company.