Mat leave, pat leave, more more more

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By Chermaine Lee

Politicians of every stripe claim to be for families. But controversy rages over what policies promote family and child well-being and which are a step too far, hurting legitimate business concerns, especially for small businesses.

The government is currently working on a study, scheduled to be completed by the end of this year, on how the government should increase the current maternity leave entitlement (10 weeks’ leave on 80 percent pay for mothers), pushing the city closer to the standards of the International Labour Organisation.

Mr Law Chi-kwong, the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, said that the government is considering paying part of the cost caused by the extension, as the parental leave in many other countries is financed by social ‘insurance’.

Hong Kong has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world, according to data from the Central Intelligence Agency. A survey conducted by Youth IDEAS showed that over 70 percent of Hong Kongers believe that maternity and paternity leave allowances are insufficient in length.

During a Legco debate earlier this month, chairman of the Liberal Party Mr Tommy Cheung Yu-yan and LegCo rep for the catering sector, slammed the proposal and suggested that paternity leave should not exist.

Give an inch…

He told TVB’s News Magazine, “Do you think [workers] will stop at seven days? Next, they’ll ask for 14 days, then they’ll ask for one month, one year. Then they’ll say the employers are unscrupulous.”

Singapore’s mothers and fathers enjoy 16 weeks and two weeks of paid leave, while South Korean women can take 90 days of full-paid leave. Korean men can take five days off and receive compensation for three of the five days.

Labourers’ benefits in Hong Kong are lag behind other countries because their bargaining power is low, according to Mr Wong Yu-cheung, associate professor of social work at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

“The business sector is very influential to policymaking in Hong Kong so labour rights here are not as good as in other countries,” he said.

Asked if this new policy will be effective in boosting the fertility rate, Mr Wong said, “Giving birth to a child is a huge decision. A few more days’ leave are not enough – that will only be a few thousand dollars, raising a child can cost millions. But it definitely provides more resources for the potential parents to take care of their children.”

Long working hours are the culprit of the low fertility rate in Hong Kong, said Mr Wong. “Having standard working hours would help. This will be more beneficial than merely the family-friendly policies [to boost the fertility rate].”

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