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Carrie Lam's policy address 2018

Six Hong Kong public bodies consider extending maternity leave before it becomes mandatory

Hospital Authority, Tourism Board and Airport Authority among those studying feasibility of giving female employees 14 weeks off ahead of policy’s 2022 target date

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 October, 2018, 8:58pm
UPDATED : Friday, 12 October, 2018, 12:28am

Six public bodies in Hong Kong are looking into extending maternity leave for their female employees from 10 to 14 weeks – even before the change becomes mandatory.

On Thursday, the Hospital Authority, Hong Kong Tourism Board, Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data, Equal Opportunities Commission, Airport Authority and the Legislative Council Secretariat said they were studying the matter, a day after Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor included the proposal among a raft of family friendly measures in her second policy address.

Government sources said the extension, which needs the Legislative Council’s approval, is expected to become effective by 2022.

Unionists said that was too long to wait, and urged the government to do more to get the new 14-week maternity leave implemented sooner.

The Hospital Authority said it “cares about family-friendly measures very much and has already started to study” extending maternity leave to 14 weeks.

A spokesman said the matter would be discussed internally in two weeks’ time and if approved, longer maternity leave could become effective immediately.

The authority oversees Hong Kong’s 43 public hospitals.

About 1,000 of its employees go on maternity leave each year, the spokesman said. Implementing the extended leave could cost the authority about HK$60 million (US$7.7 million) because temporary staff have to be hired.

The Tourism Board said it will seek its board’s approval to adjust maternity leave.

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Meanwhile, the government has decided to implement the new policy immediately for female civil servants.

Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data, Stephen Wong Kai-yi, said his office was studying the initiative, and would tell its staff of the result in due course.

“We will introduce the extension of the maternity leave before 2020, if resources permit,” he said.

A spokesman for the Equal Opportunities Commission said the watchdog was “appreciative” of the change and was prepared to extend the longer maternity leave for its female employees soon.

The Legco secretariat said it would consult its staff before reporting to the Legco Commission, which is responsible for the legislature’s administration. The Airport Authority said it would study the initiative.

At present, working mothers are paid 80 per cent of their wages while on maternity leave.

Under the proposal announced by Lam on Wednesday, the government will reimburse employers for the cost of the additional four weeks leave, up to a maximum of HK$36,822. Employers will have to pay their staff first, and then seek reimbursement from the government.

Sources said the new maternity policy is likely to become effective only in 2022 because a reimbursement system needs to be set up.

Speaking during a question-and-answer session at the legislature on Thursday, health services sector lawmaker Joseph Lee Kok-long asked if Lam could order public bodies to implement the new maternity leave immediately.

Lam replied: “If you want me to take over the public organisations’ role as employers, I’m afraid this is not appropriate.”

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At another press conference, Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said longer maternity leave would be put in place at all government schools immediately, and the government would discuss the matter with subsidised schools.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong defended the cap on the government subsidy for employers, and said it was sufficient to cover most employees in Hong Kong.

He also said the government planned to amend the law so expectant mothers would be entitled to paid leave, even if they did not receive a medical certificate for prenatal checks.

Meanwhile, Lee Cheuk-yan, general secretary of the Confederation of Trade Unions, said the government was taking too long to enforce the change.

He called on all publicly-funded organisations, including universities, to take the lead and grant staff the extra four weeks as soon as possible.

“The government should start studying how the reimbursement mechanism would work, simultaneously as it drafts the bill,” he said.

Federation of Trade Unions district councillor Bill Tang Ka-piu was also unhappy with the implementation date, and criticised Lam for claiming the government could not order public bodies to act right away.

“As the main funders of public organisations, the government has a big influence,” he said.

To encourage public organisations to implement the change sooner, he said, the government could also provide the financial resources organisations need.

Additional reporting by Elizabeth Cheung, Peace Chiu and Danny Lee