Hong Kong opposition lawmakers seek longer paternity leave for city fathers as crucial vote looms
- Pan-democrats want to see the leave entitlement for new fathers increased from three days to seven
- Government’s ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ proposal set at five days
Hong Kong’s opposition lawmakers will make a last-ditch effort on Thursday morning to fight for better paternity leave terms for working fathers as a take-it-or-leave-it vote on the controversial government bill looms.
The bill is expected to be put to a final vote at the legislature on Thursday, after it was put on hold on Wednesday as rival lawmakers got stuck in a marathon debate.
The opposition pan-democrats were arguing for statutory paternity leave to be increased from the current three days to seven, instead of the five days proposed by the government, and that full pay should be offered.
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Five of them, including the Democratic Party’s Ted Hui Chi-fung and Helena Wong Pik-wan, Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung of the Labour Party, Gary Fan Kwok-wai of the NeoDemocrats, and unionist lawmaker Leung Yiu-chung, were seeking to amend the government bill.
But their pro-business colleagues fiercely opposed anything more generous than the five-day arrangement, warning it could push up costs too far. And pro-government unionist legislators also indicated they would opt to accept the government proposal, although it was not perfect.
Wednesday’s second reading debate at the legislature came after the labour minister Law Chi-kwong warned that the bill would be withdrawn should legislators not take it, saying the five-day arrangement was the “only acceptable option”.
Hui accused the government of “playing dirty tricks” and appealed to his rival colleagues in the council to “show some guts” and joined hands with pan-democrats to fight for a better deal for male employees.
Wong also criticised the government for “showing no respect” to the legislature.
The government proposed amendments to the Employment Ordinance to allow working fathers in the city five days of paid time off with their newborns, with other current rules staying intact – while on leave, the father will be paid 20 per cent less than for normal work days.
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The government has argued that an increase of two days already represented a “substantial increase” of 66.6 per cent. It estimated that the additional cost to employers would be about HK$84 million (US$11 million) a year. But bosses could have to foot a bill of up to HK$242 million (US$31 million) more a year if seven days of fully paid paternity leave was offered.
Wong Ting-kwong, a legislator from the pro-establishment Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, warned more generous labour benefits could hit employers hard, especially when they were already facing a worsening business environment amid the brewing US-China trade war.
Cheng Chung-tai, of the opposition Civic Passion, questioned: “Is Hong Kong’s economy so weak that it could collapse if we offer two more paid days off to working fathers? Are Hong Kong’s companies so weak that they can’t afford having a male employee [not] working for a week?”
Unionist legislator Ho Kai-ming, of the leftist Federation of Trade Unions, said he and his party colleagues would “reluctantly” accept the government proposal. “Having something is better than having nothing. That is the view of the groups,” said Ho.
A total of 13 legislators spoke during Wednesday’s three-hour debate. Legislative Council president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen adjourned the meeting shortly before 8pm until 9am on Thursday.