Date
24 March 2017
More than half of pregnant women in a recent survey said they were barred by their employers from taking sick leave for pre-natal care. Photo: Tatlana Vdb/Flickr
More than half of pregnant women in a recent survey said they were barred by their employers from taking sick leave for pre-natal care. Photo: Tatlana Vdb/Flickr

EOC seeks greater protection for pregnant women

One in five female workers in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) has experienced discrimination during pregnancy, maternity leave or in the first year after giving birth.

More than half said their employers barred them from taking sick leave for pre-natal check-up, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports, citing a survey by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC).

The survey interviewed 1,473 female employees in September.

It found that 22 percent of the respondents encountered some form of pregnancy-related discrimination.

About 21 percent said they experienced unfavorable treatment before going on maternity leave.  

And 51 percent said they felt they were “impolitely treated” by their bosses and colleagues during pregnancy, especially during the fourth and 10th month.

The EOC warned that employers who reject a sick leave application from a pregnant employee are in breach of the sex discrimination ordinance.

It urged the government to establish a fund and change related laws to help SMEs hire part-time or temporary replacements for staff who go on maternity leave.

That would ensure those employees can resume work after giving birth, it said.

Frederick Chu, head of the EOC policy and research division, said the employment ordinance allows a female employee to take pregnancy-related sick leave.

Employers who fail to comply violate anti-discrimination laws, he said.

Chu said the EOC received 600 complaints from pregnant workers regarding discrimination by employers from 2010 to 2015.

Only three cases ended up in courts, with two being found in favor of the employees.

Half of the complaints were eventually dismissed while 155 were resolved by mediation. 

Chu said Hong Kong could follow Denmark in setting up a fund to subsidize part-time or casual work in SMEs.

“Our society requires labor and we need new births,” Chu said.

“Arrangements have to be made to help pregnant women with the necessary pre-natal care.”

Chu said the EOC is proposing amendments to the employment ordinance to give women statutory rights to resume work in their previous positions after maternity leave, as well as protection against discrimination during pregnancy.

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EL/AC/RA

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