In her latest policy address, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has proposed to extend the statutory maternity leave from 10 to 14 weeks.
Even before the bill to enact her proposal is tabled to the Legislative Council, which would take some time, the government declared that the measure would be enforced in government departments immediately.
However, the special treatment doesn’t apply to female employees of government-funded institutions in healthcare and social welfare, teachers from subsidized schools, etc., whose salaries and benefits are based on the same master pay scale for civil servants.
Earlier on, Secretary for Labor and Welfare Law Chi-kwong wrote on his blog that in August, shortly after he proposed the extension of the statutory maternity leave, a young female civil servant asked him at the cafeteria inside the government headquarters building during lunch break that if he would consider enforcing that proposal in the civil service ahead of the private sector.
Law said he told her he hadn’t thought about that at all.
So he now considers the immediate implementation of the new statutory maternity leave among civil servants as “mission accomplished”.
That got me into thinking: Would the outcome be different if the young lady whom Law met at the cafeteria that day had been an employee of a government-funded institution such as a teacher of a subsidized school?
This isn’t the first time that employees of government-funded institutions and subsidized schools were left out of the favorable treatment for civil servants announced in the policy address.
Back in 2011, former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen pledged to introduce a five-day statutory paternity leave for all government employees, including teaching staff of government schools in his policy address, which would be fully implemented in April 2012.
However, the proposal didn’t apply to teachers of subsidized schools.
Amid an uproar in the education sector, then lawmaker and vice chairman of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union (HKPTU) Cheung Man-kwong, during a Legco meeting, slammed the government for subjecting non-government employees to unfair treatment and creating social divisions.
Through the efforts of the HKPTU, the government finally agreed to issue an executive notice in September 2011 announcing that starting from Sept. 1, 2012, all teachers, non-teaching staff and other employees with different specialities in aided and caput schools, as well as schools operated under the Direct Subsidy Scheme (DSS), would also be covered by the new statutory paternity leave.
Sadly, six years on, the government has once again neglected the needs of employees of publicly funded institutions, who are predominantly teachers.
Shortly after this year’s policy address, the HKPTU wrote to the Education Bureau (EDB) demanding that the new 14-week statutory maternity leave be applied to teachers and staffers of aided, caput and DSS schools as soon as possible through the issuance of an executive notice like it did in 2012.
At a meeting of the Legco Panel on Public Service held a few days after the release of the Policy Address, I also raised the same issue with the Secretary for the Civil Service Joshua Law Chi-kong, who told me that the EDB is handling the issue concerned.
Yet EDB chief Kevin Yeung Yun-hung has suggested otherwise afterwards.
During a radio interview on Oct. 13, Yeung said he believed that the newly extended statutory maternity leave would be fully implemented in all schools within a year.
He went on to explain that the reason why the new measure can’t be applied to subsidized schools simultaneously with civil servants is that it involves the calculation of compensation under the current mechanism.
The truth is, the Hospital Authority (HA) board endorsed the application of the new statutory maternity leave to HA employees on Oct. 25, and estimated that it would cost an additional HK$60 million per year.
Given that, I sincerely hope the EDB can proceed as efficiently as the HA in enforcing the extended statutory maternity leave in all aided, caput and DSS schools.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov 5
Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
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