Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam proposed a series of women-friendly policies on Wednesday, including more childcare facilities and longer periods of leave for new parents.
During her 2018 policy address speech, Lam said she had “an extra responsibility to devote efforts in promoting women’s development” because she is Hong Kong’s first female leader. She noted that women in Hong Kong attain higher educational achievements than men, but their participation in the labour force and managerial roles remains relatively low.
Lam said her government will propose extending statutory maternity leave from the current 10 weeks to 14 weeks, with the additional cost borne by the government. The government reimbursement will be capped at HK$36,822, which will fully cover employees who earn up to HK$50,000 per month.
“To set an example of a good employer, the government will extend the maternity leave for all female employees of the government to 14 weeks with immediate effect,” Lam said on Wednesday.
As for paternity leave, Lam said she will support a bill to be introduced to the Legislative Council soon that will extend it from three days to five days.
Hong Kong’s maternity and paternity leave are among the shortest in Asia, and have been criticised for being not enough to protect parents’ interests. Before Lam’s announcement, the 10-week statutory maternity leave had remained at the same level since its implementation in 1981.
Helena Wong Pik-wan from the Democratic Party said she was “pleased” to see Lam extending maternity leave, a move which her party supported for years. However, she said paternity leave should be extended to seven days instead of five, and the government should have a higher cap for reimbursement.
Wu Mei-lin, coordinator of the Hong Kong Women Workers’ Association, said that Hong Kong’s statutory maternity leave had always fallen below international standards, and Lam’s proposal was just enough to reach a “basic level.”
Wu said that the government’s reimbursement plan lets employers off the hook: “The government is being generous with taxpayers’ money, and the husband is helping the boss to pay his own wife… why shouldn’t employers bear responsibility?”
Childcare and medical policies
Lam also unveiled plans for strengthening childcare – covering both childcare centres and home-based childcarers.
“Being the former Director of Social Welfare responsible for safeguarding the rights of children and a mother of two, I am deeply concerned about the healthy growth of children, both physical and psychological,” Lam wrote in her Policy Address.
She said there will be more childcare centre places, more childcare and social workers, and subsidies for childcare providers.
The government will also provide free cervical cancer vaccinations for schoolchildren of particular age groups, and require new buildings to provide baby care facilities.
The government will continue to monitor the proportion of female members in statutory bodies and advisory committees so as to reach the target of 35 per cent, Lam added.
Eunice Yung Hoi-yan of the pro-establishment New People’s Party said she was satisfied with the efforts Lam made to improve childcare, and said she hoped the policies will help mothers to rejoin the workforce. Yung is expected to be the first sitting Hong Kong lawmaker to give birth.