New and repeat parents in Hong Kong are now entitled to longer parental leave, thanks to the latest Policy Address and LegCo decisions. But economic concerns might get in the way of future extensions.
Mrs Carrie Lam, Chief Executive, announced the extension of maternity leave from the current 10 weeks to 14 in her Policy Address on October 10. Both the public and private sectors have quickly followed suit.
Private corporations like bus company KMB, fashion retailer Giordano and accounting firms Ernst & Young and KPMG, have since adopted the standard.
Furthermore, new fathers will enjoy two more days of paternity leave, as the city’s lawmakers confirmed last Thursday.
By 54 votes to 1, the LegCo passed the Employment (Amendment) Bill 2018 to increase the statutory paternity leave from three days to five.
The new law will take effect in early February next year. Fathers will be paid 80 percent of their salary during the leave.
Promoting gender equality
Mr Leung Chi-keung, chairman of Hong Kong Men’s Association, tells Harbour Times that longer paternity leave is a win-win for both men and women.
“A lot of working mothers are forced to step down from prominent positions or even give up their ambitions after giving birth. Especially when they get older, they find it more physically challenging to take care of children. Husbands can offer their wives a hand in this case,” Mr Leung says.
He further suggests splitting the five-day paternity leave in two parts.
“The husband needs to be with his wife on the first day when she is giving birth, but after that the woman is usually taken care of by her mother, nurses and midwives. It would be more flexible if men can choose when to take the second part of the paternity leave for better arrangement,” Mr Leung says.
But longer parental leave comes with higher costs.
The Hospital Authority estimates an extra HK$60 million will be needed to hire temporary staff to cope with staff shortage resulted from four more weeks of maternity leave.
Based on data from 2015, the government estimated that employers in Hong Kong would have to pay HK$84 million more a year if paternity leave went up to to five days.
Pro-democrat legislators called for seven days of paternity leave, but the proposal was voted down by pro-establishment and business-friendly lawmakers.
Mr Felix Chung Kwok-pan, chairman of the pro-business Liberal Party and a lawmaker representing the textiles and garment, called it ‘extortion’.
“Paternity leave is not [flexible] like the minimum wage that can be adjusted later on,” he said.
Mr Tommy Cheung Yu-yan, who represents the city’s catering sector, urged the government to allow the import of foreign labour to make up for manpower shortages.
Still behind global peers
While Hong Kong has officially extended paternity leave from three days to five, it is still considered petty compared to what the other countries are doing.
Nearly 50 countries and economies worldwide are implementing paid paternity leave that ranges from one to 480 days long. Most of them have it anywhere from seven to ten days long.
In Asia, fathers in Taiwan are entitled to five-day paternity leave on full pay; those in Japan get 52 weeks off with almost 60 percent of their salary; South Korea offers 53 weeks of paid leave.
Singapore, a city often compared to Hong Kong, offers eligible male employees two weeks of government-paid paternity leave. They may get paid up to around HK$14,000 per week.
Hong Kong’s birth rate has decreased from 16.8 per 1000 population in 1981 to 7.7 in 2017, government data shows.
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