Four more weeks of maternity leave

Local | Sophie Hui and Michael Shum 10 Jul 2020

Some 27,000 pregnant women will benefit yearly from an extension of maternity leave from 10 weeks to 14 weeks as a result of a change passed by Legislative Council yesterday, which should take effect this year.

The government will help employers with the additional salary costs, capped at HK$80,000 per month per employee.

In the amendment to the Employment Ordinance passed in Legco, the government also updated the definition of a miscarriage to cover women who lose their babies at or after 24 weeks of pregnancy, instead of 28 weeks, entitling them to maternity leave.

It is one of the few bills to pass before the summer break despite heightened tensions between the government and lawmakers.

Legislators across the political spectrum supported the bill, and it passed with 54 voting in favor while two lawmakers - Eddie Chu Hoi-dick and Cheng Chung-tai - abstained.

But an amendment tabled by Vincent Cheng Wing-shun from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong was vetoed.

He proposed it should be Legco, instead of the government, who proposes amending the HK$80,000 cap for additional maternity leave pay in the future.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun supported the amendment, saying the government could leave the cap unchanged "for the next 20 years."

But labor and welfare secretary Law Chi-kwong disagreed, saying if lawmakers passed Cheng's amendment, the government may withdraw the whole bill.

He said it would take a longer time to increase the cap if Legco was in charge, based on the current situation.

Prolonging maternity leave would create some manpower pressure for some employers, he added, but from the perspective of friendly family policies, women's rights and the well being of infants, it is necessary to extend maternity leave to 14 weeks.

Foreign studies show that prolonged paid maternity leave can help to reduce the chance of women leaving the labor market due to giving birth, he said.

The Federation of Trade Unions' Alice Mak Mei-kuen said her party has fought for extended maternity leave since the 1980s, and it takes a few decades to get such a bill passed.

"We will be monitoring the government on how the extension of maternity leave is implemented, as we will also keep on fighting for the rights and benefits of female employees," Mak said.

Discussion of other bills, such as one to ban e-cigarettes, have been suspended due to lack of time in the remaining term which ends next Saturday.

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