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Legislative Council of Hong Kong

First sitting Hong Kong legislator to give birth wants to vote during maternity leave

Current rules say a lawmaker has to be physically present in the chamber to vote at a full council meeting. Eunice Yung hopes for a change

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 September, 2018, 7:33am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 September, 2018, 7:33am

The Hong Kong lawmaker set to become the first to give birth in office is using her pregnancy to fight for more maternity support, including in the legislature.

Eunice Yung Hoi-yan, of the New People’s Party, said she hoped the Legislative Council would consider allowing her to vote by proxy while she is away. She is four months pregnant.

The Basic Law says a legislator must be physically present in the chamber to vote at a full council meeting. That means Yung, who planned to take three weeks off after her baby arrives in February, would have to give up her voting rights during that period.

But, Yung said: “When a lawmaker is on her maternity leave, she should not be counted as absent and should be allowed to work from elsewhere.”

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Acknowledging the difficulties in amending the Basic Law, Yung said she hoped to at least bring a change at the panel or committee level, which, unlike full council meetings, are not bound by the mini-constitution.

Yung said she would write to the Legco president and the Committee on Rules of Procedure to see if they would allow members on maternity leave to vote remotely.

Lawmakers are not Legco employees, and are instead considered residents doing a public service. They do not get the statutory 10 weeks’ maternity leave that other employees do.

“All I can do is apply for personal leave. But it might spark a backlash if I ask for a 10- or even 14-week leave,” Yung told reporters on Thursday after a meeting with the Legco Secretariat, which oversees administrative matters.

Outside the legislature, Yung is a self-employed barrister.

One of the options, she said, would be amending the house rules to let lawmakers with newborns appoint another legislator to vote on their behalf.

Yung also called on the Legco Secretariat to increase the number of nursing rooms in the complex. She said there was only one, which was also open to the public.

If mothers of newborns are allowed to vote remotely, shall those male colleagues who are on paternity leave be entitled to the same too? It could be difficult to draw the line
Dr Priscilla Leung, legislator

Paul Tse Wai-chun, chairman of the Committee on Rules of Procedure, said it would not be easy to make the change, given lawmakers are not employees.

Another committee member, Dr Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, who also sits on the Basic Law Committee, agreed the idea deserved more discussion. But she said the changes Yung called for might not be straightforward.

“If mothers of newborns are allowed to vote remotely, shall those male colleagues who are on paternity leave be entitled to the same too?” she said.

“It could be difficult to draw the line.”

Many in local political circles were surprised in August when the 41-year-old Yung and her fiancée Derek Yuen Mi-chang, her party’s policy director, confirmed they would tie the knot. They married two weeks later.

Yung on Thursday admitted the pregnancy had come as a shock, but said she was more determined than ever to advocate more family-friendly policies.

“I am glad I have broken the tradition which suggests lawmakers would not give birth during their term and I hope that will encourage more women to step into politics,” she said.

Yung, who said she still wanted to win a second term in 2020, said she hoped the government’s recent proposal to give women four more weeks of paid maternity leave would soon materialise.