Statutory paternity leave for Hong Kong fathers extended to five days after marathon 13-hour Legislative Council debate
- Opposition lawmakers proposed giving new fathers seven days leave
- Labour secretary threatened to withdraw bill if counterproposal succeeded
New fathers in Hong Kong will enjoy up to five days of statutory paternity leave from next year after a fierce debate in the city’s legislature on Thursday.
The Employment (Amendment) Bill 2018, which will become effective before Lunar New Year in February, was passed with 54 votes, four abstentions and one objection.
Pan-democratic lawmakers were unhappy with the change – from three days to five – but their counterproposals to raise it to seven days were voted down.
Secretary for Labour and Welfare Dr Law Chi-kwong, who led the effort to extend paternity benefits, came under fire for his take-it-or-leave-it attitude after warning the bill would be withdrawn if the counterproposals were approved.
“[The current proposal] is a hard-earned consensus reached by the Labour Advisory Board … and is the only acceptable option,” Law said.
“If any amendments are approved, I would have no choice but to retrieve the bill. I have no intention to threaten the lawmakers but that is my responsibility.”
Law dismissed a suggestion the government could subsidise employers for the cost of two extra days, so the paternity leave could be lengthened to seven days.
International examples had shown employers had less incentive to hire women if they had to pay for extra leave, but the same did not apply to men, Law said.
Pan-democrats accused Law of having a “shameless” attitude and treating the legislature as a mere “rubber stamp”.
During the debate, which took almost 13 hours, IT sector lawmaker Charles Mok said it was embarrassing for Hong Kong to keep discussing five days of paternity leave when conglomerates such as Facebook offered their staff four months.
Mok said improving paternity leave would boost the city’s competitiveness and accused business representatives of using small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as an excuse.
“How many babies does an employee have in his life? Why can’t the SMEs afford it?” he said.
New People’s Party’s Eunice Yung Hoi-yan, who is set to become the first lawmaker in the city to give birth while in office, urged the government to further extend paternity leave in future, saying it could lower the risk of fathers suffering from post-partum depression. But she voted down pan-democrats’ amendments.
Felix Chung Kwok-pan, of the Liberal Party, said employers could afford the proposal but were upset by the administration introducing labour welfare policies one after another.
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Beijing-loyalist Alice Mak Mei-kuen of the Federation of Trade Unions, accused the pan-democrats of politicising the issue to attack their rivals.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor had earlier announced in her policy address she would extend the statutory maternity leave from 10 weeks to 14 weeks, with the government fully responsible for the extra cost incurred, capped at HK$36,822 (US$4,700) per employee.